Recently, the UK hosted the fourth summit for Space Sustainability in London in collaboration with the Secure World Foundation.
What does sustainability in outer space mean?
- One of the hot issues when it comes to space sustainability is orbital crowding.
- With the emergence of large constellations and complex satellites, there is a risk of collisions and interference with radio frequencies.
- It poses a direct threat to the operations and safety of a mission and is likely to cause legal and insurance-related conflicts.
- Space debris is another prominent issue.
- After the completion of a mission, an ‘end-of-life protocol’ requires space objects to be moved to the graveyard orbit or to a low altitude.
- Other causes of concern are solar and magnetic storms which potentially damage communication systems.
- Such space weather threats need to be addressed along with the efforts to identify the terrestrial carbon footprint of outer space missions.
Policy measures by UN:
- As the outer space is considered a shared natural resource, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in 2019 adopted a set of 21 voluntary, non-binding guidelines.
- They aim to ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.
What does the UK plan for space sustainability entail?
- The UK calls for an “Astro Carta” for space sustainability, based on the Artemis Accords model for sustainable space exploration.
- The UK Space Sustainability plan mentions four primary elements:
- To review the regulatory framework of the UK’s orbital activity
- To work with organisations such as the G-7 and the UN to emphasise international engagement on space sustainability
- To try and develop safety and quality-related metrics that quantify the sustainability of activities; and
- To induce additional funding of $6.1 million on active debris removal
Where does India stand on space sustainability?
- India is well on its way to create a subsystem that addresses global sustainability questions.
- The ISRO has initiated ‘Project NETRA’ to monitor space debris.
- To provide in-orbit servicing, ISRO is developing a docking experiment called ‘SPADEX’.
- It looks at docking a satellite on an existing satellite, offering support in re-fuelling and other in-orbit services while enhancing the capability of a satellite.
- Outer space in the 2020s can no longer be considered a ‘space race’ because of the cost, when compared to the beginning of this century.
- Today, any entity (government or private) with the necessary access to resources and technology can invest in outer space.
- Sustainable practices in outer space would directly help reduce orbital crowding and collision risk while nurturing future technologies.
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