Space industry urged to take a broader view of sustainability | Space

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — The space industry need to take a broader examination of issues related to space sustainability that go beyond preventing the growth of space debris, one official says.

Speaking at the SmallSat Symposium here Feb. 6, Richard DalBello, director of the Office of Space Commerce within the Commerce Department, said there is a need to define a set of “internationally accepted” actions to address issues that range from orbital debris to protecting night skies from satellite interference.

“Usually, when people say ‘sustainability,’ they think space junk, but sustainability is much, much more,” he said. “As tens of thousands of new satellites are launched, space sustainability is going to be a bigger and bigger issue.”

Space traffic coordination is one key issue, he said, but noted it extends to sharing of space situational awareness data as well as potential requirements that satellites have some ability to maneuver to avoid potential collisions. It also covers efficient use of orbits and equity concerns to ensure developing nations are not denied the use of low Earth orbit as it fills with satellite constellations.

Other space sustainability issues include what is known as “dark and quiet skies,” or efforts to minimize the interference to optical and radio astronomy caused by satellites. In addition, there is the need to find ways to protect human heritage in space, he said. “If you want to do a rover that goes to the moon, do you have the right to run over Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon? I think probably not.”

He also cited environmental concerns about space activities, such as plumes from launches as well as satellite reentries that may be affecting the chemistry of the upper atmosphere, as well as risks of falling debris.

“These will become huge issues in the future, and we need to be talking about them now and working on solutions now,” DalBello. Those solutions, he said,…

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