The need for space sustainability

Source: The post is based on the article “The need for space sustainability” published in “The Hindu” on 5th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Awareness in the fields of Space.

Relevance: To understand the challenges associated with space sustainability.

News: The U.K. hosted the fourth summit for Space Sustainability in London in collaboration with the Secure World Foundation. During the summit, the UK launched a new ‘Plan for Space Sustainability’.

What are the challenges in achieving space sustainability?

Orbital crowding poses a big threat to space sustainability. This poses a direct threat to the operations and safety of a mission and is likely to cause legal and insurance-related conflicts.

Space debris: 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. Neither of the options is sustainable in the long run.

Solar and magnetic storms: These storms can 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.

Note: 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 to ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.

Read more: India and Outer Space: Issues & Challenges – Explained, pointwise
About the ‘Plan for Space Sustainability’


-To set a global commercial framework for the insurability, licensing and regulation of commercial satellites.

-To reduce the cost for those who comply with the best sustainability standards and thus encourage a thriving ecosystem for the industry.

The plan also hopes to drive the sustainability factor internationally and provide an opportunity for the private sector to develop models that enhance operations’ safety and reduce debris footprint.

How does the plan propose to achieve space sustainability?

The U.K. calls for an “Astro Carta” for space sustainability, based on the Artemis Accords model for sustainable space exploration.

The plan proposes a) Active debris removal and in-orbit servicing, b) Encouraging space research and the development of technology to ensure the reuse and recycling of satellites at every stage.

Where does India stand on space sustainability?

India has always emphasised cost-effective and efficient missions with problem-solving applications. For example, India’s debris footprint is minuscule; India has 114 debris among the 25,182 pieces, of sizes larger than 10 cm, in the lower earth orbits. Apart from that, the recent activities of India on space sustainability are,

1) Project NETRA: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has initiated ‘Project NETRA’ to monitor space debris, 2) Earlier this year, India and the U.S. signed a new pact for monitoring space objects at the 2+2 dialogue, 3) Increased private participation: With Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (In-SPACe), India expects an increased role of the private sector in India’s space activities, and

4) SPADEX: ISRO is developing a docking experiment to provide in-orbit servicing named 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. Hence, the SPADEX can increase the longevity of a mission and also provide a futuristic option to combine missions/experiments.

Read more: Indian Space Association (ISpA) – Explained, pointwise
What should be done to achieve space sustainability?

1) A collective effort by all space players, with the active role of the UN COPUOS or the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), is needed to set equitable standards for the ease of activities, 2) Many of the measures for sustainability are resource-consuming and expensive for medium-and-small space programs. Hence, there is a need for addressing the principles and rules that guide the activities in outer space with better clarity, and 3) Encourage the private sector with a set of sustainability guidelines to ensure optimum utilisation of resources and increase the safety and productivity of missions

Read more: Space Economy in India – Explained, pointwise
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