Earth Overshoot

Adopting Sustainable Space Technology

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Space technology Developments

Mains level : Space,Space security and Sustainability.

Sustainable

Context

  • World Space Week this year is themed around ‘Space and Sustainability’. Among other things, the 2022 theme seeks to specifically inspire focus on the challenges the world faces to keep space safe and sustainable.

What is mean by Space?

  • Space is an almost perfect vacuum, nearly void of matter and with extremely low pressure. In space, sound doesn’t carry because there aren’t molecules close enough together to transmit sound between them. Not quite empty, bits of gas, dust and other matter floats around “emptier” areas of the universe, while more crowded regions can host planets, stars and galaxies.
  • From our Earth-bound perspective, outer space is most often thought to begin about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level at what is known as the Kármán line. This is an imaginary boundary at an altitude where there is no appreciable air to breathe or scatter light. Passing this altitude, blue starts to give way to black because oxygen molecules are not in enough abundance to make the sky blue.

Sustainable

What is mean by Space sustainability?

  • Space sustainability is ensuring that all humanity can continue to use outer space for peaceful purposes and socioeconomic benefit now and in the long term. This will require international cooperation, discussion, and agreements designed to ensure that outer space is safe, secure, and peaceful.

What necessitate the sustainable space technology debate?

  • Mounting challenge of Space debris: Challenges are endless in both quantitative and qualitative terms, i.e., they are several and severe, ranging from satellite crowding and collision risk to space debris in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
  • Ever increasing satellites: The sense of urgency around space sustainability is already skyrocketing—more than 80 countries currently contribute to the over 6,800 active satellites in orbit, of which many are used for both civilian and military purposes, as well as over 30,000 pieces of orbital debris.
  • Militarization of space: Given the development of new and emerging space technologies, the rapid militarisation and securitisation of space, and the growing distrust amongst nations in the domain, space activity is only set to increase and acquire a more national security-oriented focus.
  • Large scale Development of ASAT: This is already visible in several countries around the world. There has been a recent uptick in the development and testing of destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, with 26 tests in the past two decades conducted by the four countries that have access to these weapons (US, Russia, China, and India).
  • Massive investment into military space capability: France, which is currently leading the European Council, has also invested several billion euros into military space capabilities, and regularly emphasises the security importance of space for other EU countries.
  • Increasing Defence space commands: Australia set up its Defence Space Command in early 2022 to increase its strategic potential in space, and South Korea deployed a spy satellite to better monitor North Korea in June 2022, giving its military space plan a huge push.
  • However, none of these countries have a sustainability provision in their defence space operations or programmes.

Sustainable

What are the challenges of Security and sustainability of Space?

  • Dichotomy in Security and sustainability: Sustainability and security are two sides of the same coin, but as a result of this inherent dichotomy, they are often juxtaposed against each other.
  • Keeping Security is the priority: The contrast between highly motivated and funded national security efforts and the relatively non-prioritised international engagements around space sustainability is an example of a larger trend of indifference towards sustainable development in favour of higher military spending.
  • SDG on backburner: To substantiate this point, funding for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adversely affected due to COVID-19 in 2021, and this reportedly dramatically pushed back progress on the SDGs, but the global military expenditure has consistently been on an upward incline and crossed the US$2 trillion mark for the first time in the same year.
  • Securitization of space: The trade-off between security and sustainability can jeopardise sustainable development within a plethora of issue domains, thus, increasing the likelihood of exhausting limited resources. This in turn could exacerbate the risk of conflict due to the resulting scarce resources, ultimately creating a vicious cycle of securitisation and conflict.
  • Rat race in Space : As a case in point, the incumbent space race has always been marked by competing security and commercial interests, which has resulted in a constant escalation of global government spending on space programmes to its record value of US$98 billion in 2021. Space sustainability, on the other hand, has only seen activity recently, and primarily in an international and voluntary set-up.

Sustainable

What regulations are needed for Sustainable Space?

  • Prioritising peaceful use of space: A Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities was set up by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in 2010, which has 95 UN member states taking part in it. The Group adopted a set of guidelines by consensus in 2019, although it failed to make these guidelines or any other regulations legally binding. It agreed to work over it for 5 years from 2022 onwards, but since the Group uses a consensus-based approach to reach agreements, it is difficult to expect more stringent or extensive regulatory frameworks to emerge from it.
  • Consensus is difficult but necessary: Consensus-based approaches in multilateral forums, especially related to arms or other security objectives, often contrast with individual national security interests of its member states and have been criticised for their slow or ineffective progress.
  • Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons: Another example of this is the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons’ (CCW) Group of Government Experts (GGE) meetings on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), which have only produced a set of 11 non-binding guiding principles since deliberations around LAWS began in 2014.
  • Space sustainable ratings should be developed: The World Economic Forum, for instance, introduced a new standard called the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR), in 2022, which aims to recognise, reward, and encourage space actors to design and implement sustainable and responsible space missions. It remains to be seen whether countries will respond favourably to tools like the SSR, which are based on a positive reinforcement model, to be more space sustainability-conscious.

Conclusion

  • space sustainability is only at the cusp of becoming actionable. When space experts, intergovernmental organisations, or countries themselves conclude that sustainability should be a part of their space mandate, and when they devise possible methods to help achieve this, they cannot do so in a vacuum. Space sustainability should not become the political football like climate change.

Mains Question

Q.What are the threats to sustainable space technology? Comment on various laws, regulations, forums on sustainable space technology.

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