How to Take Sustainability Beyond Space Debris

11th Jul 2024
How to Take Sustainability Beyond Space Debris

The 6th Summit for Space Sustainability by the Secure World Foundation is underway in Tokyo. A highlight of the first day’s events is a fireside chat featuring:

  • Paul Bate, UK Space Agency CEO;
  • Richard Dalbello, Director of the Office of Space Commerce at the U.S. Office of Space Commerce; and
  • Moderator Victoria Samson, Chief Director, Space Security and Stability at Secure World Foundation

The problems with sustainability in space

There’s a problem in the perception of sustainability when it comes to space endeavours in that ‘sustainability’ is all too often associated only with debris. What’s needed, says Richard Dalbello, is for those involved to look at the totality of effects.

Space situational awareness (SSA) often focuses on collision avoidance and debris generation events. There are other issues such as what to do with vehicles laying about on the lunar surface and the effects on Earth of satellites deorbiting. However, that does not mean that the focus on what is where can be dropped entirely.

SSA systems, not system

Paul Bates pointed out that the world using one single SSA system is currently impractical. “We’re at the stage where we have our systems in our regions. We need to coordinate; not one system but coordinate systems.” He mentioned as an example the National Space Operations Centre, or SPOC, which works with U.S. Space Command and its ESA partners, but also with 90% of the UK’s satellite operators.

We choose to be pioneers. We also choose to be responsible pioneers, who are national in name, and global in outlook.

Paul Bate

The need to coordinate… and celebrate

Along with coordinating among national and international governmental organizations, there is the need to work with companies in a way that is actionable. “It’s quite tempting to say, ‘We’ll coordinate'”.

One way to check on the effectiveness of the companies being regulated is to simply ask what their impediments are. “If they’re not saying, ‘We don’t know what you want,’ that’s a good sign.”

One other important way to shape commercial activity is to ‘celebrate’ what is done right. “To go from minimum to great is to celebrate really good behaviour,” Paul Bate told the attendees.

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