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explained | the need for space stability

How does orbital congestion, space debris work against the stability of outer space? What is the UK model of Astro Carta?

How does orbital congestion, space debris work against the stability of outer space? What is the UK model of Astro Carta?

the story So Far: On 23 June the UK hosted the 4th Summit for Space Sustainability in London in collaboration with the Secure World Foundation. In line with the ambitious UK National Space Strategy, the Science Minister, George Freeman, announced a new ‘Plan for Space Sustainability’. According to him, the plan aims to “establish a global commercial framework for insurability, licensing and regulation of commercial satellites.” It aims to reduce costs for those who adhere to the best sustainability standards and thus encourage a thriving ecosystem for the industry.

What is meant by stability in outer space?

Earth’s orbital atmosphere has more than tripled in the past decade. As the cost of missions decreases and the number of players increases, the issues of mission complexity and slot allocation 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) in 2019 adopted a set of 21 voluntary, non-binding guidelines to ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.

One of the hot issues when it comes to space stability is orbital congestion. This poses a direct threat to the operation and safety of a mission and is likely to cause legal and insurance-related conflicts. Space debris is another major issue. After the completion of a mission, the ‘end-of-life protocol’ requires space objects to be moved to graveyard orbit or to a lower altitude. Neither option is sustainable in the long run. Other causes of concern are solar and magnetic storms that potentially damage communication systems. Efforts to identify the terrestrial carbon footprint of outer space missions are needed to address the hazards of such space weather as well.

Long-term sustainability looks to the development of space research and technology to ensure the reuse and recycling of satellites at every level. The UK plan proposes active debris removal and in-orbit servicing.

What is the UK’s plan for space sustainability?

The UK calls for an “astro carta” for space sustainability, based on the Artemis Accord model for sustainable space exploration. The UK Space Sustainability Plan outlines four primary elements: reviewing the regulatory framework for UK orbital activity; working with organizations such as the G-7 and the United Nations to emphasize international engagement on space sustainability; To try and develop safety and quality-related metrics to measure the sustainability of activities; and, to induce additional funding of $6.1 million on active debris removal. The UK also confirmed investment in its National Space Monitoring and Tracking programme, which works on collision assessment services for UK-licensed satellite operators.

After Brexit, the UK space program has been changed. It now hopes to drive up the sustainability factor internationally and provide the private sector with an opportunity to develop models that enhance the safety of operations and reduce the footprint of debris. The UK aims to attract investment not only from government investors but also from others.

Where does India stand on space sustainability?

The headquarters of the Indian National Center for Space Enhancement and Authorization (In-Space) was formally inaugurated last month. An increased role of the private sector can be expected in India’s space activities. India plays host to promising start-ups such as Agnikul and Skyroute, which are developing launch vehicles for smaller payloads, and Dhruv Space, which works on satellites and high-tech solar panels for satellites. India is on track to build a subsystem that addresses questions of global sustainability.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has launched ‘Project Netra’ to monitor space debris. The home monitoring system will provide direct information about the status of the debris, which will aid in further planning on the safety of space assets. In April 2022, India and the US signed a new agreement to monitor space objects in the 2+2 dialogue. Controlled anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) testing and the risk of collision must be addressed collectively.

To provide in-orbit servicing, ISRO is developing a docking experiment called ‘Spadex’. It performs docking of a satellite on an existing satellite, providing refueling and other in-orbit services while increasing the capability of a satellite. According to Professor PG Diwakar at NIAS Bangalore, this will not only ensure the longevity of a mission but also provide a futuristic option to combine missions/experiments.

what next?

Compared to the beginning of this century, outer space in the 2020s can no longer be considered a ‘space race’ due to cost. Today, any entity (government or private) with the necessary access to resources and technology can invest in outer space. Sustainable exercises in outer space will directly help reduce orbital congestion and collision risk while nurturing future technologies. As a natural process of development, planning for space sustainability, which involves private industry, is a timely step. It will serve as a model for other space programs.

However, the broad question of sustainability cannot be handled by just one country/entity. While most national space programs set sustainability standards, with the active role of the United Nations COPUOS or the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), collective efforts by all space players seek to set uniform standards for the ease of activities. the wanted. Many measures for sustainability are resource-consuming and expensive for medium and small space programs. In this case, private initiative of sustainability standards would make access more challenging, giving an unfair advantage to programs with stable investments.

The UK’s Astro Carta idea highlights the need to address the principles and rules that guide the activities of entities in outer space. Further clarity is needed to know the precise outline and guiding principles to determine the path of Astro Carta. India has always emphasized on cost-effective and efficient missions with problem-solving applications. Its debris footprint is small; It contains 114 of the 25,182 fragments larger than 10 cm in low Earth orbits. The emerging private sector can be incentivized with a set of sustainability guidelines to ensure optimum utilization of resources and increase security and productivity of missions.

The author is a doctoral scholar at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru

essence

As outer space is considered a shared natural resource, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in 2019 adopted a set of 21 voluntary, non-binding guidelines to ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.

The UK Space Sustainability Plan outlines four primary elements: reviewing the regulatory framework for UK orbital activity; Emphasizing international engagement on space sustainability; To try and develop safety and quality-related metrics to measure the sustainability of activities; And, to inspire additional funding for active debris removal.

ISRO has launched ‘Project Netra’ to monitor space debris. The home monitoring system will provide direct information about the status of the debris, which will aid in further planning on the safety of space assets.

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