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Major space companies call on governments to adopt ‘highway code’ to combat space junk

Photo courtesy Shutterstock

Inmarsat is one of 27 signatories to The Space Safety Coalition, which has today published new guidelines for organisations working in space in the face of an exponential increase in the number of spacecraft being launched.

The guidance lays out best practices for space operators, covering technical recommendations and operating procedures, including:

  • Avoiding intentional space object fragmentations or collisions that place other nations’ interests, satellites, or crew at risk.

  • International information sharing between spacecraft owners, operators and stakeholders to avoid future collisions.

  • Prioritising sustainable practices during satellite launches, for example using re-usable launch vehicles or alternative fuels.

  • A list of technical best-practices for designing future spacecraft, including using propulsion systems that prevent gases being released in the atmosphere.

  • A 'rules of the road'-style guidebook for manoeuvring spacecraft to avoid collisions.

  • Considering future technologies when designing spacecraft to make them more sustainable, like in-space inspections, refuelling and disposal options.

  • Improving cybersecurity to reduce the risk of security breaches or unauthorised access of spacecraft.

Inmarsat's Space Sustainability Report, published in 2022, called on the industry, governments and regulators to strengthen regulation in the space sector in the face of an unprecedented increase in the number of spacecraft in orbit.1 The Inmarsat report, produced in partnership with research firm AstroAnalytica, revealed more than 10,000 tonnes of satellite and rocket objects are currently in Earth’s orbit; a figure that could increase dramatically. Data from the European Space Agency shows an exponential increase in satellite launches to Low Earth Orbit in recent years, with almost 3,000 sent to space between 2020 and 2021 alone.2

Based on statistical models produced by ESA’s space debris office, it is estimated that there are now 36,500 objects in space larger than 10cm, and an extraordinary 130 million objects between 1mm to 1cm in orbit. All of which move at speeds more than 10,000 kilometres per hour.

Rajeev Suri, CEO, Inmarsat, said "Initiatives like the Space Safety Coalition are an important step towards establishing international best practices and guidelines to protect the space environment, but it is not enough. The clock is ticking, and real action is needed. National regulators everywhere should now use their powers of granting market access to require that satellite operators adhere to best practices like those outlined by the Space Safety Coalition and beyond."


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