- Satellite Evolution
Inmarsat CEO warns of risks to sustainability and innovation posed by unmanaged expansion in space
Updated: Apr 28, 2022
Rajeev Suri, Chief Executive Officer of Inmarsat, the world leader in global, mobile satellite communications, has issued a stark warning that unmanaged space sector expansion could exacerbate environmental damage, stifle innovation and undermine the long-term capability of satellites to help combat climate change.
Addressing the Royal Aeronautical Society’s conference ‘Towards a Space Enabled Net Zero Earth’, Mr Suri focused attention on major factors threatening long-term environmental and economic sustainability.
The Inmarsat CEO told the conference: “Space is increasingly important for the creation of a sustainable world. While the role of new players – with new investment and innovations - is to be welcomed, space is too important an asset to be driven by short-term thinking. To protect our shared future, there must be a common approach and common rules that protect the space environment too.
“My speech today is showcasing the positive impact that satellite communications is already having in the aviation, maritime and Internet of Things sectors – particularly in helping organisations to drive down their greenhouse gas emissions. I am concerned that these advances will be put at risk if we continue the ‘leap before you think’ approach when it comes to the space environment.”
Mr Suri highlighted three primary areas of concern
Low-earth orbit mega-constellations risk creating a massive amount of space debris “Mega-constellations are talking about tens of thousands of new satellites during this decade – satellites with an expected life of only five to ten years. The resulting debris creates hazards not just in a particular orbit, but for anything passing through that orbit. “We simply do not yet understand all the risks this creates and we do not yet have all the technologies needed to manage the situation effectively.”
The impact of unmanaged growth on the world’s environment “The environmental challenge is not well understood. The journal Nature noted that satellite re entries from one of the mega constellations alone could deposit more aluminium into Earth’s upper atmosphere than is deposited through meteoroids, becoming the dominant source of high altitude alumina. This would risk reflecting solar radiation in an uncontrolled manner, which senior scientists have said could create severe consequences for the environment on Earth.”
The impact of ‘orbital exclusion’ on competition and innovation “There is the issue that is politely known as ‘orbital congestion,’ but which I, a bit more directly, call ‘orbital exclusion.’ “What are the risks that one single company or country can put so many satellites in a single orbit that no other can possibly fit in? Is that good for competition and innovation? Is it good for the consumer? Maybe, maybe not … but some more global thinking on this issue would be wise before it is too late. “To be clear, there is a role for LEO constellations, and we have plans for our own small and highly targeted LEO satellite constellation as part of our ORCHESTRA network of the future. I have no objection to fast action, as long as that action is also sensible for the long-term. I don’t think we know enough now to say if this is a serious issue or not, but let’s understand better and then act.”