February 20, 2023
Staff Accomplishment

Regulating Space Junk: Doty Talks Orbital Debris, International Law

Presentation part of international law space speakers series

Photo of Kathleen Doty

Kathleen Doty, advisor for treaties and agreements, is exploring the legal and policy challenges associated with debris in space. 

(Photo courtesy of Kathleen A. Doty | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

There is a lot of junk in space. Millions of pieces of debris are estimated to be in Earth’s orbit, according to the NASA Orbital Debris Program. Who is responsible for this “space junk” and how to address it are key questions as access to space grows. On February 17, Kathleen Doty shared legal insight on the challenge in her presentation “Regulating Space Junk” as part of the University of Georgia (UGA) School of Law’s Spring 2023 Space Law Speaker Series.

“Orbital debris presents an incredible challenge. As the volume of orbital debris increases, it increases the chance of collisions that may damage or destroy space assets and may eventually lead to a lack of access to certain portions of space. Law, policy, and technology will each need to form part of the solution to enable secure access to space in the future," Doty said.

Hosted by the university’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, the speaker series is part of a new international law course offered at the UGA School of Law and required for students pursuing a  graduate certificate in international law. Doty is a former director of the center and a graduate of the UGA School of Public and International Affairs. Today, she is an advisor for nonproliferation treaties and agreements at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, has more than a decade of international law experience, and specializes in international security governance with a focus on space policy and law.

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to engage students on this topic. It is one that is ripe for creative thinking about new governance structures and policy solutions,” Doty said.

Doty’s presentation gave an overview of international space law as it relates to orbital debris, how it is implemented in the United States, and outstanding legal issues. Following her presentation, students in the course will develop and pitch potential solutions to the issue of debris in space to a panel of judges in a hackathon-style competition later this spring.