While many think of space as vast and empty, the near-Earth environment is getting crowded. Today, there are more than 8,000 satellites within Earth’s orbit, and as access to space continues to democratize, activity will only increase.
Satellites offer many benefits to life on Earth: monitoring agriculture and climate, strengthening national security and delivering internet to developing countries. Launch activity, however, creates hazard and debris – beyond the active satellites, Earth’s orbit is cluttered with space junk, including everything from defunct spacecraft to former astronauts’ gloves and toothbrushes.
In the near future, says the World Economic Forum (WEF), space debris will become a critical challenge for the global community, endangering access to space and the many benefits access brings. While certain recommendations and guidelines exist, more needs to be done before something catastrophic happens.
Voyager is honored to work alongside WEF to increase sustainability in space and help solve the space debris problem through two important projects: the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR) and the Space Industry Debris Mitigation Recommendations.
The Space Sustainability Rating provides a new, innovative way of addressing the space debris challenge by encouraging responsible behavior in space through increasing transparency of organizations’ debris mitigation efforts. The SSR provides a score representing a mission’s sustainability as it relates to debris mitigation and alignment with international guidelines.
By voluntarily taking part in the rating, spacecraft operators, launch service providers and satellite manufacturers will share a single point of reference externally describing their mission’s level of sustainability. Making their aggregate score publicly available, these actors will increase transparency and place emphasis on their debris mitigation approach, without disclosing any mission-sensitive or proprietary information.
WEF and the European Space Agency (ESA) also recently published the Space Industry Debris Mitigation Recommendations to complement existing best practices and recommendations to set an ambitious – but realistic – target for behavior in orbit by 27 industry actors from across the space sector. Voyager is a proud signatory. We believe strongly in setting ambitious yet attainable best practices to mitigate the risks – especially in low Earth orbit – posed to missions and life on Earth due to space debris.
Voyager CEO and Chairman Dylan Taylor said, “As more and more activity takes place in space, we must make it a priority to work with all actors, private and public, and across national boundaries, to implement rules of the road for sustainable behavior in orbit, as well as for dealing with the existing debris already there.”
Life on Earth benefits greatly from space exploration, and these benefits are poised to only grow in size, scale and impact. We believe it’s critical to create a safe and sustainable operating environment to ensure future generations can enjoy these benefits, too.