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A Sustainable Space: Everyone's Responsibility

01/02/2024
Blog

Space has been experiencing growing pressure in recent years due to human activity. One statistic suffices to grasp the magnitude of this reality: the approximately 8,000 active satellites. These satellites primarily serve communication purposes but also play crucial roles in Earth observation, essential for scientific studies and our navigation systems.


Forecasts indicate that this growth will continue unabated in the coming years. Euroconsult estimates an average of over 2,800 satellites will be launched annually by 2032, equivalent to eight devices per day. With these numbers, it is undeniable that the new space economy is booming, and the satellite industry is here to stay. Indeed, it has proven vital in bridging the digital divide and connecting the disconnected, whether on land, sea, or air.


This is the only way to provide true global connectivity to people and things, aiding various industries in digitization. As the satellite industry continues to grow, it is expected to contribute with socio-economic benefits worth over $250 billion worldwide.


With the constant increase in satellites and spacecraft, it has become imperative to address both mission efficiency and long-term sustainability. The proliferation of space debris, the increased risk of collision in orbit, and the impact on optical astronomy are significant causes for concern.

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How can space be sustainable?

 

In response to these challenges, companies operating in the sector have been compelled to implement pioneering solutions and standardized practices to ensure that space remains sustainable and safe for future generations. This is precisely the aim of the recently approved Code of Conduct on Space Sustainability by the Global Satellite Operators Association (GSOA), the international association representing global and regional satellite operators, which companies like Sateliot have naturally and immediately integrated.

 

This regulation explicitly addresses all the elements mentioned earlier and calls on operators to develop responsible practices that reduce the risk of collision in orbit, minimize the threat of untraceable debris, protect humans in space, and limit the effects on optical astronomy.

 

For this code to be truly effective, it is essential operators share information about traceable debris they may or may not have generated, design deorbiting phases to ensure satellites do not become debris, and work together to minimize negative impacts on terrestrial optical astronomy while allowing observations in optical wavelengths and ensuring satellite service provision.

 

A step further towards sustainability

 

Alongside these international regulations, one of the fundamental pillars of the space's sustainable strategy is the robust design of satellites. These are not just advanced technological devices in space but solid structures designed to withstand the extreme conditions they are exposed to.

 

Carefully selected materials and components ensure the strength and stability to face space adversities.

 

The design phase is crucial for companies in this sector, requiring proactive measures to minimize risks. For example, satellites are designed to perform deorbiting maneuvers at the end of their useful life, meaning they change their orbit in a controlled manner during reentry into the atmosphere, burning up and avoiding the accumulation of space debris.

 

They also have installed thrusters to prevent potential collisions in orbit and select orbits that ensure reentry in less than five years.
During this phase, interventions also address the size and finish of the satellite surfaces, facilitating a reduction in their impact on astronomical observations made from Earth. Rigorous testing of satellites before launch significantly contributes to these goals, simulating extreme space environmental conditions, including vibrations and temperature changes in a vacuum, replicating situations the satellite will face during its lifespan.


These thorough tests not only ensure the satellite's resilience but also identify any structural weaknesses or defective components before launch. As for the risk of collisions, this challenge is addressed by studying and selecting specific orbits that minimize the chances of collision with other objects in space, using advanced tracking systems, including GPS, incorporated into their satellites.

 

Implementing this comprehensive strategy is essential for companies to take the lead in establishing a standard for the industry regarding sustainability and responsibility. It is also the instrument to pave the way for a future in which space remains a valuable resource for all of humanity.

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