Space sustainability

  • IASbaba
  • July 6, 2022
  • 0
Science and Technology
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Context: Recently U.K. hosted the fourth summit for Space Sustainability in London in collaboration with the Secure World Foundation.

  • UK also announced a new ‘Plan for Space Sustainability’, thus bringing the focus back on space sustainability.
  • This plan aims to “set a global commercial framework for the insurability, the licensing and the regulation of commercial satellites.”


  • The earth’s orbital environment has more than tripled in the past decade.
  • One of the hot issues when it comes to space sustainability is orbital crowding.
  • 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.
  • Space weather threats – other causes of concern are solar and magnetic storms which potentially damage communication systems.

What does the U.K. plan for space sustainability entail?

  • The U.K. calls for an “Astro Carta” for space sustainability, based on the Artemis Accords model for sustainable space exploration.
  • The U.K. Space Sustainability plan mentions four primary elements:
  • to review the regulatory framework of the U.K.’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?

  • With the establishment of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (In-SPACe) – One can expect an increased role of the private sector in India’s space activities.
  • India is well on its way to create a subsystem that addresses global sustainability questions.
  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has initiated ‘Project NETRA’ to monitor space debris, this would aid further planning on protecting space assets.
  • In April 2022, India and the U.S. signed a new pact for monitoring space objects at the 2+2 dialogue.
  • 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.
  • This would not only ensure the longevity of a mission but would also provide a futuristic option to combine missions/experiments.

Way ahead

  • Sustainable practices in outer space would directly help reduce orbital crowding and collision risk while nurturing future technologies.
  • The Plan for Space Sustainability, which includes private industries, is a timely move.
  • Collective effort by all space players, with the active role of the UN COPUOS (United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space) or the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), is needed to set equitable standards for the ease of activities.
  • India has always emphasised cost-effective and efficient missions with problem-solving applications. Its debris footprint is minuscule; it has 114 debris among the 25,182 pieces, of sizes larger than 10 cm, in the lower earth orbits.
  • The UK’s Astro Carta idea throws light on the need for addressing the principles and rules that guide the activities of entities in outer space.

The role of public and private sector should be encouraged with a set of sustainability guidelines to ensure optimum utilization of resources and increase the safety and productivity of missions.

Source: The Hindu

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