U.S. Senate is doing something to try to clean up space junk.

The Payload newsletter reports on a new law being debated by American legislators. The ORBITS act is intended to create new technologies for ADR – active debris removal – from near-Earth orbit:

The debris problem: 100M+ individual pieces of debris are in Earth orbit right now, ranging from flecks of dust and paint to spent American and Soviet boosters to decommissioned, defunct satellites. As the space industry gears up to launch tens of thousands of satellites in the coming decade, spacefaring nations’ governments are figuring out how to stop the dreaded Kessler syndrome before it becomes a reality.

Orbital debris is notoriously difficult to regulate. So far, humans have yet to actively remove debris from orbit. While rapidly advancing, ADR is far from the promised land of commercial viability.

“With any new technology, government investment in R&D is essential,” Chris Blackerby, COO of Astroscale, told Payload a few months ago. Public investment can help get innovative new ideas, like ADR, over the “valley of death.”

The ORBITS act spans four pillars. The bill would:

  • Direct NASA, the Office of Space Commerce (OSC), and the National Space Council (NSpC) to create a list of the most dangerous pieces of debris in orbit
  • Direct NASA to create a program focused on debris removal R&D
  • Update orbital debris mitigation guidelines across multiple government agencies
  • Require OSC, the National Space Council, and the FCC to develop practices to improve space situational awareness and space traffic management.

The second provision would allow NASA to petition industry for ADR demonstrations, a major step for advancing this technology in the US.