With the growing commercialization of outer space, the threat of damage to satellites from detritus hurtling through space could prevent the continued installation of satellites. The cure for this issue cannot simply come from mitigation efforts; governments and organizations involved in spacefaring activities must participate in active remediation measures. International space agency guidelines and U.S. statutes and regulations are productive preventative measures against further accumulation of debris. In addition, a number of organizations are working on new technology to actively reduce orbital debris. These active processes for culling debris from orbit are essential for the reduction of debris buildup.
One possible barrier to the organizations looking to clean up outer space is property ownership rights. Enforcement of ownership rights rests with domestic law, which would accordingly need to be applied extraterritorially to satellites in space to uphold ownership interests. Though the U.S. Supreme Court has set forth a presumption against extraterritorial application of domestic laws, U.S. domestic laws apply in the narrow instance of suits arising when actions in international areas do not invoke international law or create a conflict of laws problem. With this the case, remediators should look to the doctrine of abandonment as a way to easily facilitate the capture of debris and defunct satellites. Under this doctrine, an owner has abandoned the property if he unilaterally relinquished "all title, possession, or claim to or of [the property]."
Applying the abandonment doctrine to post-mission satellites can help determine the legal ramifications of trying to clean up post-mission satellites and how those actions might impact ownership rights. Owners generally take one of two actions as regards post-mission satellites: (1) leaving the satellite in its mission orbit or (2) moving the satellite from its mission orbit to its disposal orbit. When owners fail to move post-mission satellites into a disposal orbit, the satellites qualify as abandoned property and can therefore be captured. A more nuanced, case-by-case analysis must apply when owners take the prescribed steps to move post-mission satellites to a disposal orbit. While post-mission satellites can be analyzed through the doctrine of abandonment, orbital debris does not easily fit into the analysis and cannot be reduced through the avenue of abandonment and capture.