Space debris will get worse without sustainability measures

space debris will get worse
Image by Alejo Miranda | Bigstockphoto

There is almost 10,000 tonnes of satellite and rocket objects currently in Earth’s orbit, including an estimated 130 million pieces of space debris – and those figures is going to get worse for satellite operators unless measures are taken to ensure mid-to-long term usability and sustainability of space.

That’s according to a new report from satellite operator Inmarsat and AstroAnalytica that calls on industry operators, national governments and regulators to take coordinated action to reduce space debris, enhance safety and better manage the expansion of mega LEOsat constellations.

The amount of space debris in orbit could increase dramatically as mega-constellation projects like Starlink and OneWeb prepare for launch, potentially increasing the number of LEO satellites from approximately 4,000 to 100,000 by the end of the decade.

Recommendations on proposed standards to improve operations in space include actions to prevent collisions in orbit, to curb anti-satellite missile testing, improve the disposal of end-of-life satellites, introduce points-based penalties to enhance sustainability among satellite operators and to take action over monopolistic practices among new industry entrants or governments.

The report also recommends strengthening existing regulators and improving coordination among UN agencies, such as the G7 countries that have significant satellite interests, national governments, standards bodies and the space industry itself. The proposals also suggest expanding the remit of the International Telecommunications (ITU) from mobile network spectrum to regulation of LEO constellations and to coordinate technical sustainability criteria for satellite launches.

Another potential hazard is anti-satellite (ASAT) missile testing, which has been carried out by a number of countries in recent years, with resultant space debris. The report calls on more nations to announce and implement ASAT testing moratoriums as soon as possible.

“The time has come to address sustainability in space with a coherent plan to address the growing problem of debris, satellite congestion and the absence of agreed international standards in our industry,” said Inmarsat chief executive Rajeev Suri. “We need a new mindset and a new approach to environmentalism in space.”

The full report is here.

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