Astra Carta: Setting the Environmental Standard For UK Space

6th Jul 2023
Astra Carta: Setting the Environmental Standard For UK Space

In 2022, in the Space Sustainability Summit, King Charles (then the Prince of Wales) set out his ambition for the future of the UK space industry, an ‘Astra Carta’. His goal is to bring the public and private sectors together and unite everyone in the industry to work towards sustainability in space.

In June 2023, the Sustainable Markets Initiative launched the document, the Astra Carta. They explain that the document “aims to serve as a roadmap for the global private sector to align their space-related activities with sustainability goals, approaches, and standards in partnership with governments, international organisations and other stakeholders.”

What is the Sustainable Markets Initiative?

The King, as the Prince of Wales, long championed sustainability, and formalised this support in 2020 with the launch of the Sustainable Markets Initiative. 

The Initiative is an organisation that seeks to support and assist companies as well as the public sector in their aim to become more sustainable. In their own words, they seek a “coordinated global effort to enable the private sector to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future.”

The SMI utilises schemes such as Task Forces, including those comprised of private sector CEOs, working together to set priorities and make commitments to effect progress in environmental factors. Working Groups encourage companies, the public sector, and stakeholders to work together and share their expertise.

In 2021, the Terra Carta was launched. This is a mandate, putting sustainability front and centre of the work done in the private sector and encouraging the recovery effort in the fight against climate change. The Terra Carta is a mandate, featuring a set of principles for the rest of the decade in order to prioritise nature and our planet.

A huge part of these organisations is their seal of approval, which helps to show the commitment companies are making. A recent study showed that sustainability is still the top priority for consumers in the UK, in spite of the cost of living crisis. Companies carrying the Terra Carta seal can show their commitment, and now the Astra Carta sets out to do the same for space companies.

The King himself explained the initiative: “The ‘Terra Carta’ offers the basis of a recovery plan that puts Nature, People and Planet at the heart of global value creation – one that will harness the precious, irreplaceable power of Nature combined with the transformative innovation and resources of the private sector.”

The Astra Carta Launch

The King welcomed a number of industry leaders, scientists, and sustainability experts at an event at Buckingham Palace.

The event was preceded by a Space Sustainability Symposium at the Royal Society, hosted by the Minister of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, George Freeman.

Major Tim Peake, Dr Meganne Christian, Rosemary Coogan, John McFall, and astrophysicist Sir Brian May were among those to throw their weight behind the initiative, and Colonel Chris Hadfield, the former Commander of the ISS, also spoke at the event.

Hadfield explained: “The Astra Carta creates an opportunity to align private sector and other stakeholders with an ambition to place sustainability at the heart of the space industry. Whether it’s executing activity in the most sustainable way or leveraging all that space has to offer for sustainability here on Earth, the Sustainable Markets Initiative’s Astra Carta is a call to action and convenes those best placed to contribute.”

The event also saw the launch of the “Memorandum of Principles for Space Sustainability”, the crucial document, which many companies and industry leaders signed. 

On the same day as the launch of the Astra Carta, the Space Sustainability Symposium in London gave the floor to the UK’s Minister for Science, George Freeman. He spoke about space debris and issues in sustainability. He signed a Memorandum of Principles for Space Sustainability, as did over 100 different organisations and space sector stakeholders. 

This is a further commitment to responsible behavior in the UK’s exploration of space and use of satellite technologies. The memorandum is not legally enforceable, and in a similar way that the Astra Carta does, the document sets out to create a guideline for companies and provide support, rather than hold them accountable.

The Astra Carta Seal

The event was also the official launch of the Astra Carta seal, which will be displayed by the companies and stakeholders. Sir Jony Ive and his team at the creative collective LoveFrom were tasked with creating the design, based largely on the seal of the Terra Carta initiative.

The seal sees the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon as well as “the transit of Mercury, dance of Venus and Mars.”

It also features constellations from the night sky such as Cepheus, Orion, Monoceros, Centaurus, Crux, Leo, and Charles’ Wain within Ursa Major, plus the North Star.

The Astra Carta also has a motto, “to care for the infinite wonders of the universe” which decorates the edges of the seal.

Sir Jony Ive was the chief design officer of Apple, and is one of the most decorated product designers, as well as being awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2006 and a Knighthood in 2012. Speaking about the design in a press release, Ive explained “We were fascinated by the celestial rhythms that were illuminated during this design process, and how they are profoundly connected to the patterns of life on Earth. This feels a crucial time to do more to protect the natural universe in the broadest sense.”

Drilling Into The Details

So what does the Astra Carta actually say?

The document provides a backdrop based on the space industry and the requirement for this sort of commitment. It explains that “as humanity stands on the precipice of this new era of space exploration and development, it is of utmost importance that we approach this endeavour with a profound sense of responsibility and care.”

The Astra Carta recognises the fact that the space industry has given the UK, and the rest of the world, an incredible tool as well as numerous benefits to humankind. Reaching for the stars has revolutionised all of our lives. However, it also recognises the impact of the space industry on the environment.

“As we embark on this journey we must not forget to preserve and protect our origins on Earth. Inspired by the original Terra Carta, which continues to chart a path towards a more sustainable future for Nature, people and planet, this transformative document extends those principles to the realms beyond our world”

The Astra Carta also sets out to protect the universe and its “boundless marvels” for generations to come, and in a rallying cry refers to humans as the sole custodians of the cosmos.

The stirring introduction continues to call for “shared commitment to preserve the beauty and wonder of outer space, while harnessing its potential to help us unite for the betterment of humanity. As we embark on this next giant leap, let us be united and resolute in our commitment to care for the infınite wonders and mysterious purpose of the universe.”

The document goes on to define the supporters of the Astra Carta. 

In a summarised synopsis of what the memorandum says, it encourages partners to:

  • Recognise the impact that the Earth and UK space industry has on the environment and the universe. 
  • Seek to make partnerships and share information that can improve sustainable and responsible practices.
  • Recognise the fact that we need to integrate sustainable development in order to protect the future of the universe and future generations.
  • Understand that space exploration has interests beyond the boundaries of national borders, and that the endeavours should be in the interests of the whole of humanity.
  • Look to make crucial collaborations and partnerships that can assist their mission to be sustainable.
  • Foster partnerships with communities that respect traditional knowledge and wisdom as well as cooperation on space activities.
  • Embrace a culture of peace and cooperation in order to build on successes and work together “even in times of terrestrial tension”.
  • Try to reduce the barrier to space and allow people from all backgrounds and nations to get involved in the pursuit of knowledge.
  • Inspire future generations and help to work together to cultivate an appreciation of our universe in education as well as in the workplace.
  • Understand the value of upholding an accountable governance framework and accountability to safeguard the interests of all of humankind.

Finally, the document goes on to explain its statement of intent, and provides seven practical steps and commitments for the Astra Carta to build on the Terra Carta’s work, building towards more sustainable space exploration as well as development and partnership.

The statement of intent explains that “The Astra Carta aims to promote the peaceful expansion of humanity into the solar system and beyond by providing a roadmap of ethical and sustainable ambition, cooperation and innovation.” 

Success will also be measured by the sustainable approach and technological advances that are created from the efforts.

Point three of the statement of intent focuses on the private sector, explaining that the document is designed “as a roadmap for the global private sector to align their space-related activities with sustainability goals, approaches, and standards”. As it stands, there is very little in terms of documentation and legislation to hold these companies to account. We’re largely relying on a collective effort, and the Astra Carta seeks to partially formalise this as a shared commitment.

Point four outlines the responsibilities that the companies subscribe to by signing the document:

i. Aligning with the Terra Carta, existing global sustainability frameworks and recognized space agreements including: the Paris Climate Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Outer Space Treaty, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) Guidelines on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities and the Artemis Accords.

ii. Upholding the sanctity of the universe by respecting the cosmic realm as a precious interconnected ecosystem. Our actions will be guided by a deep respect for the universe’s intrinsic value and the diverse life it may hold.

iii. Advancing sustainable practices by pioneering within industries for space exploration, where every endeavour is founded upon principles of ecological harmony and long-term viability. Through innovative technologies, responsible resource management and regenerative practices, we will ensure that our cosmic ventures leave a minimal footprint.

iv. Creating incentives for sustainable growth by creating markets that reward sustainable practices and propel sustainable markets for space. By aligning economic interests with responsible development, we will catalyze a thriving and environmentally conscious space industry.

v. Pursuing collaborative endeavours and equitable access by fostering international partnerships and knowledge-sharing initiatives, transcending borders to harness the collective wisdom and resources of diverse nations and sectors.

vi. Cultivating cosmic innovation by embracing the spirit of scientifıc inquiry, technological innovation and human creativity to push the boundaries of our understanding of the universe. By fostering a culture of innovation and inspiration, we will unlock the vast potential of the cosmic frontier.

In point five of the document, the Astra Carta explains its recognition of the private sector and aims to make it easier for companies to fall in line with the guidelines with a voluntary framework to properly support sustainability journeys.

In point six, the statement of intent covers the fact that a systems level approach is needed, relying on leadership and resourcefulness, and again the document calls for collaboration with the goal of technological advancement.

In point seven, the document sets out the fact that this is a “living document” and that there will be an annual update, in order to keep up with the fast-moving industry.

The Impact of the Astra Carta

While focused on the UK at this time, the document has a global reach and appeal, and encourages companies farther afield to play by this set of rules.

Rivada Space Networks and SSTL were among the first signatories of the Astra Carta. 

The Memorandum of Principles for Space Sustainability has more than 40 signatories so far, including OneWeb and EchoStar. Both documents are said to be ‘living’ documents which means that they will be updated at least annually, and more companies and organisations will have the chance to earn the literal seal of approval. 

The Astra Carta may hold no legal weight, but when it comes to environmental matters, the penalties for non-compliance impact all of us. With the Astra Carta, the space industry has the chance to lead the way, as it so often does, in matters of sustainability. 

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