Space Sustainability Guide for Galactic Travelers

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The concept of carbon footprint is widely recognized as a decisive environmental sustainability indicator for measuring the environmental performance of a product, company or country. The absence of such an indicator in the space industry has prompted an international and transdisciplinary consortium to design, develop and operate the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR).

How to assess spatial stability?

The SSR was first proposed by the World Economic Forum and supported in its design by MIT, the European Space Agency, the University of Texas at Austin and the Space Enabled Research Group in Bristol. In 2021, the EPFL Space Center (eSpace) was chosen to host and manage SSR. The rating system is used in other industries such as LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) In the construction and green building sector. Designed as a composite indicator, SSR provides a comprehensive definition of sustainable design and practice at all stages of a mission’s life cycle, from design to waste disposal to in-orbit operations.

In their own interest, operators have already taken sustainable measures, including a recent demonstration of commercially effective Active Debris Removal (ADR) services, increased investment in in-orbit maintenance, and a mission that plans to fully knockdown design and disposal within five years. National agencies are also playing their part in sustainable systems. France took the first steps in 2008 with a law on space activity, which included instructions to reduce space debris. It imposes strict design restrictions for launches from French Guiana, allowing the spacecraft to be orbited after launch.

Read more: “Like climate, space debris is a problem that is often put on hold.”

As emerging space nations develop their regulatory frameworks, they are looking for ways to incorporate sustainability measures to meet their national obligations under the UN space treaty. Despite these efforts, the definition of what would be a sustainable method in space is not universal, and it is difficult to determine, measure and verify compliance with these guidelines.

The goal of SSR is to fill this gap by providing operators with a clear framework for measuring the sustainability of their mission. The key to SSR is that it is already based on models published by agencies and academic institutes, which allow measurement and measurement of sustainability decisions made by operators without disclosing information. 7 exclusive to the mission

Encourage good habits

The Satellite Industry Association and the United States Federal Communications Commission support the establishment of a rating system to recognize those who demonstrate their commitment to the long-term sustainability of the space environment and the reduction of space debris. Depending on their rating, players may one day be rewarded with financial and economic incentives. These can affect satellite operator insurance premiums, reduce potential costs and lead to more positive customer and public perceptions, act as a competitive advantage and provide greater prestige.

Such assessments are already working in other industries, marketing and ESG (environmental, social and governance) types of corporate reporting. Their goal is to highlight changes in attitudes towards consistent evaluation, emphasizing good behavior rather than embarrassing the bad.

“Space CSR” in practice

Address Financial times In 2021, ESA space debris mitigation analyst Stegen Lemens commented: “If you were an operator in low Earth orbit five years ago, you would be concerned about avoiding most debris. Today, you also have to think about avoiding other operators. ”

Working closely with astronauts who have chosen to test SSR, it is clear that they are concerned about the long-term use of the space environment and the risks and challenges of space debris and the growth of space vehicles. The trial phase for the development of SSR was conducted in 2021 to enable the tool to be calibrated and adjusted before its official launch and to involve operators and manufacturers to improve it.

Several companies including Airbus, Astroscale, AXA XL, Elseco, Lockheed Martin, Planet, SpaceX and Voyager Space Holdings actively supported the development of SSR, participated in testing and expressed interest in participating after its public launch.

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Based on the initial feedback reviewed during the beta testing episode, eSpace found that space players valued feedback on their respective missions. They praised the scoring approach for considering the various sustainability components of their mission. Also, similar to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) displayed by companies in other sectors, SSR is a platform for space sector players to demonstrate their commitment and action towards long-term sustainability in current and future missions. In the case of start-ups, having an SSR rating is a way to show their commitment to sustainability. Early hints have proven to be beneficial for start-up investors.

Some space players have expressed concern about being able to show high ratings only if they behave “sustainably”, which could lose competitive advantage. But the earlier these decisions are made in the design of the mission, the less their impact on the overall cost.

  • For example, the ESA’s “Mission Index” is a key component of the SSR rating, which estimates the risk of collisions or debris based on the mission’s orbital profile. It uses the ECOB formula (Environmental Consequences of Orbital Breakup).

  • Another section of the SSR rates space missions based on the level of difficulty in detecting, locating, and tracking spacecraft, drawing on the work conducted by team members from the University of Texas and MIT.

  • The contribution of space actors has confirmed that these analytical methods can be applied to a variety of missions.

A criterion for spatial stability

The economic growth of the space sector coincides with the need to maintain a sustainable and safe space environment, which allows for fair and equitable use of space activities. The rating system serves as a benchmark for sustainability design and performance measurement. They aim to recognize, reward and encourage actors to pursue long-term sustainability, as well as support the continual updating of guidelines and conduct standards in sustainability. eSpace went through a transition phase with the SSR consortium and took ownership and management of SSR in 2021. The official launch took place during the 4th Space Sustainability Summit in London on 22 and 23 June.

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