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Towards a more sustainable space industry

International space experts joined the ICT Spring Space Conference on July 1, dedicated to the state of space in terms of sustainability and environmental hazard prevention. On top of this, they also share insights on the importance of developing a sustainable space economy. Awarded international moderator Sabinije Von Gaffke served as Master of Ceremonies for this session.

Ensuring security and sustainability through new technologies

As the frequency of natural disasters have grown over the past few decades, ICEYE VP of Analytics Shay Strong highlighted that “prediction is key to prepare for the upcoming years”. This applies both for new technologies use and spread in the space sector, as well as society challenges. On his side, European Space Agency (ESA) Managing Director Jean-Jacques Dordain recalled the signature of the International Charter Space and Major Disasters in 1999. This was initiated by the European and French space agencies, respectively the ESA and CNES, with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The members of the International Charter - space agencies and space system operators worldwide - work together to provide satellite imagery for disaster monitoring purposes. This represented a first step to collect and analyze data so as to apprehend potential dangers. 

It is clear that terrestrial dangers, notably the ones generated by climate change, are a threat to humanity - but so are the non-terrestrial ones. To prevent spatial risks, B612 Foundation President & Chief Executive Danica Remy showcased the importance of planetary defense as well as tracking asteroids and space debris, among other potential hazards. LeoLabs Founder and Astronaut Ed Lu presented his solution to track space activities in real-time. This tracking system works thanks to telescopes tracking asteroids location and also radars tracking space debris (range, distance, speed and location). This tracking strategy can truly help prevent these potential hazards from hitting the Earth and satellites - as it would cause more space debris

This demonstrates that new technologies - especially data use - represent a strong asset in terms of space security and sustainability. At the national level, the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) collects different types of data from multiple data providers (Luxembourg Space Agency, Spacety, Copernicus,...) in order to develop machine learning and deep learning models, and deploy them on cloud platforms. Hence, these data can be applied in different fields, such as flood mapping, wine disease detection, forest disturbances mapping, and many others. 

The role of stakeholders in fostering a sustainable future

The space sector has been - and is still - subjected to important changes in the last two decades. Although regulations require extensive revisions, space actors do have a critical role to play in sustainability, notably their carbon footprint. Sabinije Von Gaffke hosted a roundtable reuniting several space experts to discuss how space actors can contribute to fostering a sustainable space economy. ReOrbit Founder & CEO Sethu Saveda Suvanam admitted that today, the space infrastructure and industry operates in a non-sustainable way. And this is what ReOrbit ambition is about: making rigid and single-use satellites into reusable, flexible, and low-cost space systems. Besides, all speakers all agreed on the fact that space can contribute to sustainability.

Furthermore, Satlantis Co-founder & CEO Juan Hernani regretted that the “power of space is under-utilized”, as it can clearly benefit a large number of sectors. Luxembourg Space Agency CEO Marc Serres gave the example of blending space and ICT sectors, as they can be complementary to track and collect relevant data so as to drive innovation to address sustainable-related challenges. On top, he also affirmed that collaboration should be cultivated on a worldwide scale, as one company cannot face current challenges on its own. This inevitably passes by technology advances and, as Sethu Saveda Suvanam stated, this is where newcomers and most importantly regulations come into play to implement space innovation. 

All speakers, including SatelliteVu CEO Anthony Baker, agreed that institutions and governments have a role to play, in the sense that legislation and policies necessitate important revision to include space in the solutions - notably in terms of sustainability. Institutional and international stakeholders also need to reconsider the budget allocated to the space industry, so as to offer innovative solutions to support space projects and, incidentally, to fight climate change through better prediction and prevention. 

It is nonetheless to note that European institutions are currently working on reviewing their stand regarding the space industry. ESA Director of Telecommunications & Integrated Applications Elodie Viau explained that ESA and the European Commission work hand in hand on space traffic management and space situational awareness so as to find solutions to both observe and monitor the overall space assets. Therefore, this would clearly help EU autonomy and credibility, and participate in debates relating to the space domain.

Optimizing the space and Earth environments

Anywaves Head of Communications Emilie Genoudet moderated a roundtable discussion dedicated to the way terrestrial and space businesses can collaborate to build a sustainable future. Cosine Managing Director Prof. Dr. Marco Beijersbergen was clear on the fact that sustainability is about living “in balance with planet Earth”. For this, AirLiquide Director of Space Market Bertrand Baratte noted the importance of decarbonizing the space industry through the development of sustainable space solutions.

In parallel, Spire Head of Product & Strategy (Space services) Idris Habbassi detailed the Spire sustainable strategy in three parts. They aim to contribute to improve humanity’s security and safety, to promote a peaceful and responsible use of space, and also to promote innovation through equity and inclusion, notably between countries and different organizations. On top of developing communication and collaboration within the space industry to fight climate change, Prof. Dr. Marco Beijersbergen highlighted how essential data use is for better decision making in terms of sustainable development. Besides, Hydrosat President Royce Dalby reminded that climate change is not the only issue to sustainability. 

Another issue is humanity. Space and terrestrial challenges are interlinked, hence why it is essential for humans to change their lifestyle in order to prevent climate change-related consequences. As NASA Astronaut & Test Pilot Ron Garan claimed, “we are entering a new human era where everything will change, [...] we need a new map to navigate this new future”. So far, humans have considered themselves as “outsiders” and non-planetary. Additionally, humans have been obsessed with conquest and capitalism, and there is a high necessity to alter these habits so as to preserve our planet and the space environment. Therefore, Ron Garan insisted on the necessity of building strong collaboration and shifting the in-earth focus so as to zoom out from the bigger picture. Humans clearly need to detach themselves from materialistic ties, and realize that “home is earth”.