@PearsonArtPhoto's answer contemplates:

Any object that is below 100 km now is considered an aircraft, and technically needs the permission of the country over which it is flying to enter that air space, while it does not need the permission if it is above 100 km.

When spacecraft are in the process of reentering the atmosphere at the end of life, are the countries who's airspace is likely to be involved routinely notified specifically by the spacecraft owner?

Is there a procedure for this to seek permission to use each country's airspace?

Or is the violation customarily ignored?

Or is it not actually a violation of airspace?


1 Answer 1



Do owners of reentering spacecraft notify the countries' whose airspace they are likely to violate and seek permission?

No, there is no requirement for notification, and in most instances there is no notification.

There are three main guiding principles of international space law that could apply.

The Outer Space Treaty has a vague reference that could be relevant:

States Parties to the Treaty conducting activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, agree to inform the Secretary-General of the United Nations as well as the public and the international scientific community, to the greatest extent feasible and practicable, of the nature, conduct, locations and results of such activities.

The Registration Convention only covers launch with no treatment given to reentry.

The Liability Convention only covers claims after damage.

Local authorities like the FAA and FCC may impose license-based restrictions on reentry due to their own policies. For instance, in the U.S. there are guidelines that objects that have a high casualty probability must undergo a controlled re-entry.

In case of controlled re-entries, countries will normally issue a notification to overflown states, although, more often than not, the reentry will be over the ocean. Without a controlled reentry, which is the case for most small/medium satellites, notification is close to useless. The error bars on a natural reentry can be several orbits. In other words, you may need to notify the entire world that you are re-entering.

Having said that, Space-Track will issue "Tracking and Impact Prediction" (TIP_msg) messages for any object whose reentry is imminent. First prediction can be issued up to 60 days before predicted reentry (60day_msg) although often it is only a week or two ahead of prediction. They will then continue issuing updates on a daily or higher basis.

To illustrate, I pulled up the Decay Data for object 8418 (1975-081D), a booster stage launched by the Soviet Union in 1975. First 60day_msg was issued 2019-02-28 with a predicted decay of 2019-03-16 [You can see 60 day is a misnomer]. There were 7 subsequent TIP_msg warning of imminent reentry. Actual reentry occurred 2019-03-24, as captured by the decay_msg. I'm attaching a portion of the last TIP_msg below. It gives you an idea of how the predicted decay epoch varied from 2019-03-19 through the end on 2019-03-24. Decay orbit varied between 31402 and 31409, ultimately most likely coming in on 31407. The final decay_msg does NOT state the actual decay orbit, just the day of decay.

Moral of the story, practically impossible to know exactly when it is coming in, and by extension who to notify.

Object Message Epoch Decay Epoch Rev Direction 8418 2019-03-24 04:01:00 2019-03-24 02:39:00 31407 ascending 8418 2019-03-24 00:37:00 2019-03-24 02:42:00 31407 ascending 8418 2019-03-23 21:59:00 2019-03-24 03:54:00 31409 descending 8418 2019-03-23 02:54:00 2019-03-24 01:20:00 31408 ascending 8418 2019-03-22 00:49:00 2019-03-24 00:36:00 31406 ascending 8418 2019-03-20 19:44:00 2019-03-23 20:09:00 31404 descending 8418 2019-03-19 23:16:00 2019-03-23 16:51:00 31402 ascending

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    $\begingroup$ Wow this is quite a thorough answer, thank you! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ Correct. My answer is there is no requirement for notification and in most instances there is no notification. $\endgroup$
    – Carlos N
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ Speaking of high casualty probabilities, I don't actually know much about space law, but NASA's fascinating CubeSat guide [nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/… states requirements for an Orbital Debris Assessment Report. "The documentation required depends on which U.S. Government agency has 'jurisdiction' over your CubeSat...", which could be FCC, NOAA, or NASA. And that's just the US. I don't think there is an international law on orbital hazards, just local laws. $\endgroup$
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ Should have said that the ODAR includes identifying things like chunks of tungsten in your satellite that may not burn up easily and could hit the ground. $\endgroup$
    – Greg
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ SOMETIMES we do notifications for controlled reentry for political reasons, even when not legally required. For example, there were times during the Cold War when the United States notified the Soviet Union of some very high-altitude reentries that would transit Soviet airspace so they wouldn't be mistaken for an attack. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 16:18

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