Space Sustainability

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    In News

    • Recently, the U.K. hosted the fourth summit for Space Sustainability in London in collaboration with the Secure World Foundation

    Plan for Space Sustainability

    • A new ‘Plan for Space Sustainability’ was announced at the summit. 
      • This plan aims to “set a global commercial framework for the insurability, the licensing and the regulation of commercial satellites.” 
      • It also aims to reduce the cost for those who comply with the best sustainability standards and thus encourages a thriving ecosystem for the industry.

    What is Space Sustainability?

    • The earth’s orbital environment has more than tripled in the past decade. 
    • As the cost of missions reduces and the number of players increases, the complexity of missions and slot allotment issues also increase. 
    • With the emergence of large constellations and complex satellites, there is a risk of collisions and interference with radio frequencies
    • As outer space is considered a shared natural resource, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) 2019 adopted a set of 21 voluntary, non-binding guidelines to ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.
    • Long-term sustainability looks towards space research and development of technology to ensure the reuse and recycling of satellites at every stage. 

    Space Tourism

    • It is a segment of space travel, space tourism allows lay people to travel to space for recreational, leisure or business purposes
    • The aim is to make space more accessible to those people who are not astronauts and want to travel to space for non-scientific reasons.
    • Various companies are offering bookings for zero-pressure balloon trips for short flights, astronaut boot camps and simulated zero-gravity flights.
    • With companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin launching commercial space flights, space tourism has become one of the world’s fastest-growing sectors.

    Why Space Sustainability?

    • Orbital crowding:
      • 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:
      • 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:
      • Other causes of concern are solar and magnetic storms which 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.

    U.K. plan for Space Sustainability

    • The U.K. plan proposes active debris removal and in-orbit servicing.
    • The 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. 
    • The U.K. also confirmed investments in its National Space Surveillance and Tracking Programme, which works on collision assessment services for U.K.-licenced satellite operators.

    Issues/Challenges

    • Need for collective efforts:
      • The broad question of sustainability cannot be driven by one country/entity alone. 
      • While most National Space Programs set sustainability standards, 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. 
    • Resource-consuming and expensive measures:
      • Many of the measures for sustainability are resource-consuming and expensive for medium-and-small space programs. 
      • In this case, private initiatives of sustainability standards would make accessibility more challenging, giving undue advantage to programs with stable investments.

    India’s stand on Space Sustainability

    • Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (In-SPACe):
      • The headquarters of the In-SPACe was recently inaugurated. 
      • We may expect an increased role of the private sector in India’s space activities. 
    • Agnikul and Skyroot:
      • India hosts promising start-ups like Agnikul and Skyroot, which are developing launch vehicles for small payloads and Dhruva Space, which works on high-tech solar panels for satellites and satellite deployers. 
      • Through this, India is well on its way to create a subsystem that addresses global sustainability questions.
    • Project NETRA:
      • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has initiated ‘Project NETRA’ to monitor space debris. 
      • The domestic surveillance system would provide first-hand information on the status of debris, which would aid further planning on protecting space assets. 
    • India-U.S. dialouge:
      • In April 2022, India and the U.S. signed a new pact for monitoring space objects at the 2+2 dialogue. 
      • The controlled anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) tests and the risk of collisions must be collectively addressed.
    • SPADEX:
      • 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

    • 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 emerging private sector could be encouraged with a set of sustainability guidelines to ensure optimum

    Source: TH