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What are the rules governing international use of water areas to dump used spacecrafts from orbit or launch trajectory.

enter image description here (source: Wikipedia / Nasa)

This would apply to rocket stages, boosters, tanks, decommissioned satellites, space station returning cargos, etc. Some may burn during re-entry, some may not, and some may be dumped before reaching any orbit.

Is that formally allowed to dump space stuff into oceans, are there specific areas empty of human activities reserved for such purpose?

Is there any international agreement on what could return to Earth (e.g. hazardous propellant like hydrazine)

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Short answer: none that are binding.

Longer answer: Most space-faring countries and organizations voluntarily implement standards that abide by the principles in the space debris mitigation guidelines of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

In the case of NASA, this is implemented by NASA Technical Standard 8719.14 -- specifically section 4.7 of that standard called "Survival of Debris From the Postmission Disposal Earth Atmospheric Reentry Option." In summary, a risk assessment is performed to ensure that the chance of a human casualty below 1 in 10,000.

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  • $\begingroup$ Did, say, Shuttle solid state boosters count as "Postmission"? $\endgroup$ – DJohnM Jan 23 '15 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ NASA verifies(ed) that the downrange waters are clear before launching to get below this 1 in 10,000 threshold. This has caused scrubs due to boats wandering into the area... $\endgroup$ – Erik Jan 23 '15 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ @mins Also see Space Liability Convention $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Jan 27 '15 at 2:05

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