The number of satellites in orbit is expected to increase from 9,000 today to more than 60,000 by 2030, and estimates suggest that there are already more than 100 trillion untracked pieces traveling around the planet. Scientists have come together to call for a global push to remove space junk.
To this end, in an article published in the journal Science, researchers from various institutions call for a legally binding agreement to ensure that the Earth’s orbit is not irreparably damaged by the future expansion of the global space industry.
In the week in which nearly 200 countries agreed to a high seas treaty to protect the oceans after a 20-year process, experts believe that society must take advantage of the lessons learned from one part of the planet.
The article is signed by scientists from the University of Plymouth, the Arribada Initiative, the University of Texas at Austin, the California Institute of Technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Cornish Spaceport and the Zoological Society of London .
Although satellite technology is used to provide a wide range of social and environmental benefits, there are fears that the anticipated growth of the industry could render large parts of Earth’s orbit unusable.
In their writing, experts in satellite technology and plastic pollution in the oceans say this demonstrates the urgent need for a global consensus on the best way to govern Earth’s orbit.
They acknowledge that various industries and countries are beginning to focus on the sustainability of satellites, but stress that this should be strengthened to include any nation that has plans to use Earth orbit, summarizes a statement from the University of Plymouth.
Any agreement, they add, should include measures to establish the responsibility of producers and users over satellites and debris, from the moment of their launch.
Business costs should also be taken into account when looking for ways to incentivize responsibility.
Experts also believe that unless immediate action is taken, large parts of our planet’s environment are at risk of the same fate as the high seas, where a “insubstantial governance” it has led to overfishing, habitat destruction, deep-sea mining exploration, and plastic pollution.
Among the signatories are scientists who contributed to the commitment to develop a global treaty on plastics signed by 175 world leaders and representatives at the United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2022.
Imogen Napper, a researcher at Plymouth University, points out that “The problem of plastic pollution, and many of the other challenges facing our oceans, is attracting global attention. However, collaboration has been limited and implementation slow.”
“Now we find ourselves in a similar situation with the accumulation of space debris. Taking into account what we have learned from the high seas, we can avoid making the same mistakes and work collectively to prevent a tragedy (…). Without a global deal we could find ourselves on a similar path.”remark.
Kimberley Miner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory states that “Minimizing contamination from Low Earth Orbit will allow continued space exploration, the continuity of satellites, and the growth of life-changing space technology.”
Melissa Quinn, Director of the Cornish Spaceport, encourages all leaders to take note and recognize the importance of this next step and jointly take responsibility.
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