Towards Sustainable Use of the Geostationary Orbit


Cyril Ron, Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Miloslav Machoň, Prague University of Economics and Business


This website is a follow-up project introduced by Prof. Luboš Perek, emeritus Director of Astronomical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (Czech Academy of Sciences nowadays/1968–1975),  IAU Secretary-General (1967–1970), UNOOSA Director (1976–1981), and IAF President (1981–1982), CAS President (1989–1992), STSC COPUOS Chairman (2002–2004) passed away in 2020 at his 101. As a professional astronomer, his interests encompassed the distribution of matter in the Milky Way and planetary nebulae. He is famous for the Catalogue of Galactic Planetary Nebulae in this field. He co-authored the catalog with his fellow astronomer Dr. Luboš Kohoutek. Today, a main-belt asteroid ‘(2900) Lubos Perek’ and the largest astronomical instrument in the Czech Republic 'The Perek 2-m Telescope' are named after him.

Prof. Perek's career turnaround occurred in 1975 when he was appointed as a Director of the UN Division for Space Affairs (UN Office for Outer Space Affairs nowadays). From 1975 to his death in 2020, he was interested in international cooperation in the peaceful uses and exploration of outer space. His education in mathematics and astronomy and his previous professional and managerial experiences in the Astronomical Institute determined his interest in sustainability in outer space, namely space debris mitigation, space traffic management, and international status of the geostationary orbit.

In 2000, in cooperation with delegations of the Republic of Colombia and the Republic of Ecuador, Prof. Perek, as the national delegate in UNCOPUOS scientific and technical subcommittee, submitted the working paper to resolve an international controversy about the political and legal status of the geostationary orbit stemmed from the Bogota Declaration in 1976. From 2000 to his death in 2020, he focused on a need for close coordination between the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in terms of sharing information about the actual occupation and use of the geostationary orbit.

Whereas the UNOOSA is responsible for maintaining the register of physical objects launched into outer space under provisions of the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space entered into force in 1976, the ITU has responsibility for managing space networks in the radio spectrum, including in the geostationary orbit. Under this responsibility, the ITU can determine the best orbital position for the case. The space networks enjoying international recognition and protection are notified in the Master International Frequency Register and denoted as category N. So, Prof. Luboš Perek used his knowledge about international space governance to create a comparison table of ITU space networks and satellites in geostationary orbit. States and international organizations provide the notifications under the provisions of the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. The content of registration notifications is subject to the sovereignty principle.

Unfortunately, the provided information via the UN mechanism for registration of space objects is incomplete. Prof. Perek developed his approach to mapping the actual occupation of the geostationary orbit. For the comparison table, he used the the Database and Information System Characterising Objects in Space, the NORAD Two-Line Elements, the Classification of Geosynchronous Orbits by the ESA Operation Center, the COSPAR International Designation and the Large Encyclopedia of Satellites and Space Probes, 1957–2012 published by the Library of the Czech Academy of Sciences to determine the actual occupation and use of the geostationary orbit. His conclusions derived from the comparison table precise information about the paper satellites. He defined the space networks in the Master International Frequency Register with no satellites at nominal positions as paper satellites.

His findings based on a comparison of the ITU notified space networks and nominal positions of satellites in geostationary orbit broadly support and precise the works of other authors about paper satellites. Audrey L. Allison (2014, 26) also observed the phenomenon of paper satellites in her data and used a less effective and slow ITU regulatory system as the primary explanation for her outcomes. She proposed new administrative and financial regimes to resolve the problem of paper satellites. Due diligence solution, the proposed administrative regime assumed that satellite providers would provide more comprehensive information about a satellite network, including the identity of the satellite network, spacecraft manufacturer, and launch service provider (Allison 2014, 35–36). The proposed financial regime aimed to determine the satellite network cost recovery. The discussion about setting the satellite network cost recovery included recommendations on modifying ITU Council Decision 482 under its original mandate. The registration process costs for satellite network fillings are the core of Decision 482. The ITU Council approved the decision to avoid shaping the financial regime for profit-making (Allison 2014, 51).

The discussion on how to rationalize using radio frequencies and orbital positions at the geostationary orbit is ongoing in the ITU (Allison 2017, 406; Marcus 2019, 4–5). A more comprehensive international regime should be established to avoid frequency spectrum warehousing (Morssink 2019, 7). In a more general way, the uses of outer space as the global common heritage of all mankind (Cross 2021, 3–4) covers the debate about the geostationary orbit (Skinner 2017, 106; Hofmann and Bergamasco 2020, 3). The Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space and The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (The Outer Space Treaty) recognized the common interest of mankind in the exploration and use of outer space (Kopeć 2018, 168–170; Pekkanen 2019, 95–96).

From the social sciences perspective, outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, represents an area for activities of all countries, regardless of the degree of their socio-economic development (Schladebach 2018, 248). Hence, the ITU distinguishes the radio frequencies and the geostationary-satellite orbits as scarce or finite resources that recent rapid technological development might threaten. The rising number of launched satellites implies increased demand for orbital and spectrum positions. So, securing equitable access for all countries is crucial to meet future generations' needs without compromising future generations' ability to meet their own needs (Martin 2019, 91–92). Last but not least, recent projects of the new mega-constellations at the low-earth orbits also raises questions about how to avoid harmful spatial and radio-frequency interferences in geostationary orbit (Cappella 2019, 16). Due to the growing number of private-operated mega-constellations below the geostationary orbit, a need for further development of international legal and regulatory regime covering the equitable access to the geostationary orbit and its enforcement is desirable. Because the current shift in outer space regimes includes activities of private actors financed through private-public partnerships in which private actors play more prominent roles in comparison to states, the future legal and regulatory authority should clarify the state responsibility for activities of non-governmental actors in outer space, under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty (Bajzová and Mokrá 2021, 20–21). The international regime for sustainable use of the geostationary orbit would cover space security, including framing the interference in the radio spectrum and satellite collisions as relevant threats (Robinson 2016, 139; Schmidt and Boháček 2019, 325–326).




Allison, Audrey L. 2017. “Satellite Spectrum Allocations and New Radio Regulations from WRC-15: Defending the Present and Provisioning the Future.” In Handbook of Satellite Applications, edited by Joseph N. Pelton, Scott Madry, and Sergio Camacho-Lara, 383–411. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Allison, Audrey L.,  2014. The ITU and Managing Satellite Orbital and Spectrum Resources in the 21st Century. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Bajzová, Bibiana, and Lucia Mokrá. 2021. “Who Really Cares about Outer Space? Principal-Agent Theory and the Sustainability of Outer Space Regulation.” Studia Politica: Romanian Political Science Review 21 (1): 7–27.

Cappella, Matteo. 2019. “The Principle of Equitable Access in the Age of Mega-Constellations.” Edited by Annette Froehlich. Legal Aspects Around Satellite Constellations. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Cross, Mai’a K. Davis. 2021. “Outer Space and the Idea of the Global Commons.” International Relations 35 (3): 384–402.

Hofmann, Mahulena, and Federico Bergamasco. 2020. “Space Resources Activities from the Perspective of Sustainability: Legal Aspects.” Global Sustainability 3: e4.

Kopeć, Rafał. 2018. “Geostationary Belt–State’s Territory or Province of Mankind?” Review of Nationalities, no. 8: 167–78.

Marcus, Michael J. 2019. “ITU WRC-19 Spectrum Policy Results.” IEEE Wireless Communications 26 (6): 4–5.

Martin, Anne-Sophie. 2019. “The Relevance of ITU Rules for Regulating the Use of Radio Frequency and Associated Orbits in the Context of Space Mining Activities.” Journal of Space Law 43: 85–105.

Morssink, Margaux. 2019. “An Equitable and Efficient Use of Outer Space and Its Resources and the Role of the UN, the ITU and States Parties.” Edited by Annette Froehlich. Legal Aspects Around Satellite Constellations. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Pekkanen, Saadia M. 2019. “Governing the New Space Race.” AJIL Unbound 113: 92–97.

Robinson, Jana. 2016. “Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures for Space Security.” Space Policy 37: 134–44.

Schladebach, Marcus. 2018. “Fifty Years of Space Law: Basic Decisions and Future Challenges.” Hastings International and Comparative Law Review 41: 245–72.

Schmidt, Nikola, and Petr Boháček. 2019. “Dawn of Cosmopolitan Order? The New Norm of Responsibility to Defend Earth and the Planetary Council.” Edited by Nikola Schmidt. Planetary Defense: Global Collaboration for Defending Earth from Asteroids and Comets. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Skinner, Mark A. 2017. “Orbital Debris: What Are the Best near-Term Actions to Take? A View from the Field.” Journal of Space Safety Engineering 4 (2): 105–11.