Before We Ruin the Universe, We Should Follow Some Space Sustainability Guidelines
There are 20,000 objects orbiting Earth at this moment that are larger than 10 cm. Out of that number, only about 2,000 are operational satellites. The other 18,000 objects are pieces of junk of varying sizes. But it’s not just junk: it’s dangerous junk.
If that doesn’t sound like a problem, keep this in mind: Thanks to SpaceX and others, we’re living in the age of cheap access to space, and we’re seeing more and more satellites boosted into orbit. The problem won’t go away on its own.
The risk is that there will a dangerous collision between one of these pieces of space junk and one of our important satellites. Or worse yet, a risk involving a crewed vessel like the International Space Station. Thankfully, awareness of the problem is growing and people want to do something to solve it, or at least stop it from getting any worse.
“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”
Mr. Albert Einstein
There are different versions of that Einstein quote out there, but they all express the same idea: Once we get ourselves into an undesirable situation, the same type of thinking that got us there is not likely to get us out of it. Maybe the people behind a new initiative called the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR) had Einstein’s quote in mind.The idea of sustainability has been circulating in environmental circles, and in city planning and energy use circles, for some time now. Sustainability is about a long-term view of human endeavours. Has the time come for us to start thinking about sustainability in space? Why not?
Humanity’s A Mess. Who Cares About All Those Satellites Anyway?
In case you need a reminder, satellites serve a variety of important functions. Navigation, banking, climate science, weather forecasting, hurricane tracking, music, communications. There are few aspects of our modern world that aren’t at least partially reliant on our fleet of satellites. Maybe you’re not a fan of satellite radio, but things would be severely disrupted if some of our satellites went down.
The Space Sustainability Rating system, or SSR, is being spearheaded by the
World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Space Technologies. The Council is developing voluntary guidelines to guide nations in the development and deployment of satellites. Some space-faring countries already have laws in place to guide companies operating on their soil. But the SSR is being set up as a global initiative to help the space junk problem.
The idea is similar to the LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) system, a group of guidelines for buildings that leads to more efficient, greener buildings.