Inmarsat, the world leader in global, mobile satellite communications, has today issued a far-reaching report on sustainability in space calling on industry operators, national governments and regulators to take coordinated action to reduce space debris, enhance safety and better manage the expansion of mega constellations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
The report, produced in partnership with research firm AstroAnalytica, makes detailed recommendations on proposed standards to improve operations in space. These 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.
Rajeev Suri, Chief Executive of Inmarsat, said: “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.
“We need a new mindset and a new approach to environmentalism in space, which will become increasingly important amid industry plans for a massive increase in satellite launches into Low Earth Orbit that will increase the risk of collisions and potential atmospheric contamination.”
Inmarsat’s Space Sustainability Report reveals that almost 10,000 tonnes of satellite and rocket objects are currently in Earth’s orbit, including an estimated 130 million pieces of space debris. These figures could increase dramatically as so-called mega-constellation projects prepare for launch, potentially increasing the number of LEO satellites from approximately 4,000 to 100,000 by the end of the decade.
Today’s report highlights concerns about the mid-to-long term usability and sustainability of space, with knock-on implications for vital services provided by satellite operators for global connectivity and communications, including mobile telecoms networks, in-flight communications, defence applications and scientific research.
Introducing the report, Mr Suri highlighted three primary areas for action on sustainability:
- To address the growing risk of catastrophic incidences in space stemming from space debris;
- To enhance understanding and actions to address environmental hazards in space, and acknowledge their potential impact on climate change; and
- To regulate and curb predatory practices carried out by some commercial and governmental satellite operators.
Among the hazards revealed by the report is the threat posed by 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.
Recommendations to counter such debris and enhance overall sustainability in space include how to strengthen existing regulators as well as improve 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. Other initiatives include proposals for a points-based penalty system for satellite operators linked to the licensing process on new launches and constellation-management, including data sharing.
Mr Suri added: “Robust and bold steps are needed to arrest the deteriorating state of the space environment. This report sets out measures and recommendations to ensure that space can be a domain that can sustain commercial, scientific, and national security activities for generations to come.”