UKSA, at UNOOSA Conference, Asks About End-of-Life For Cis-Lunar Craft

19th Jun 2024
UKSA, at UNOOSA Conference, Asks About End-of-Life For Cis-Lunar Craft

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) held the first-ever UN Conference on Sustainable Lunar Activities in Vienna on 18th June 2024. The conference brought together industry and government representatives to begin a discussion on how human activities around the Moon, crewed and otherwise, will be coordinated and made sustainable.

At the UNOOSA Commercial Activities / Perspective on Lunar Coordination and Communication session, private sector representatives spoke about, among other things, the interconnect between governmental regulators and commercial mission operators, especially regarding lunar activities. Participants included:

  • Ron Garan, Chief Executive Officer, ispace-US
  • Steve Altemus, Chief Executive Officer, Intuitive Machines
  • Yufu Cui, Programme Chief Engineer, DFH Satellite Co. Ltd.
  • Logan Ware, Director, International Business Development, Blue Origin
  • Kathryn Hadler, Director, European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC)

UK Space Agency asks a pointed question

After an hour of very interesting Q&A at the UNOOSA conference about lunar issues such as commercial – national v commercial – international regulation (with ITU brought up regarding radio frequency issues), there were still topics to be raised.

Karl Kane-Collery, Beyond Earth Orbit Regulation Lead at UK Space Agency, asked the panel:
“We don’t yet have a lot of information for a lot of lunar actors about the disposal plans they have for spacecraft, either planned or currently in lunar orbit. So, should we be expecting private actors as well as public actors to publish plans in advance of their disposal intent, similar to what we have around low Earth orbit missions?”

Miscommunication at the UNOOSA conference?

Given the UK’s Astra Carta programme, the question should have come as no surprise. However, the answers from the panelists show that they may have missed the point:

Steve Altemus, of Intuitive Machines:
“There were specific requirements levied on Intuitive Machines by both the FCC and the FAA for disposal requirements of the rocket upper stage and the lander spacecraft that we flew, both as a connected orbiting body and also to separate, free flying entities. And we had to be in compliance with making sure there was no harm to potential reentry to Earth and calculate the percentage of the population that would be affected, as well as where, in fact, any disposal based on contingencies of the propulsion system or the navigation system or any failure in the subsystems, would drive us. And, would that take us out into a heliocentric orbit, to a lunar orbit where we degraded into the Moon, or back to Earth? And we had to make sure that that was also safe from a general population standpoint on Earth. So there was a governing body that guided us through that.”

Then, Logan Ware, of Blue Origin:

“Those license requirements persist as well. [For] all of our commercial activities, there are levied requirements from FAA, FCC, the Commerce Department. I think that that’s also a meaningful indication that industry is being a good steward of the outer space environment, and following our domestic policy.”

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