Navigating the Space Sustainability Challenge
Based on recent statistics, there is an estimate of more than 10,000 firms and 5,000 investors in the space economy. While commercial developments are expected to grow in the years to come, strategic action plans on maintaining space sustainability must become a primary concern for all stakeholders involved.
Is your organization joining the next trillion-dollar economy?
The emerging space economy is deemed by analysts as such. The space economy growth is projected to be at a 6.84% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2022 and 2026. According to experts, the industry is anticipated to reach $1 trillion in annual revenue by 2040. This trillion-dollar possibility can be attributed to the plummeting launch costs - which, by the same year, is predicted to be lower by 95%.
Like other emerging industry trends, space exploration is very much welcome in our fast-evolving society. Through the space economy, we usher in a new data revolution for our world and unlock even more innovative possibilities. However, it is not without repercussions - which leads us to conversations on prioritizing space sustainability.
The need for space sustainability
Without plans on addressing space sustainability, we risk losing the benefits and future opportunities for exploration. Thus, we need to strategize and execute plans to mitigate some of the most pressing issues in building a sustainable space environment.
1. Orbital debris.
As more satellites and ships are launched into orbit, the amount of space debris also increased. Debris colliding can produce larger quantities of debris, and can also damage or completely destroy satellites.
This problem can last for decades or even centuries. As of this moment, more than 21,000 pieces of debris larger than about 10 cm are being tracked in the Earth’s orbit. However, 500,000 pieces of debris that are larger than 1 cm remained untracked.
2. Rocket emissions.
For the past years, experts stated that the effects of rocket emissions have never been a big concern. But since the space economy started booming, the number of rocket launches has increased. In 2022, we had a record of 186 launches, and only 8 of them resulted in failure.
Research showed that rocket engines caused a significant carbon footprint - and what worries scientists is that there is limited research at present. The extent of the impact on our atmosphere and ozone layer remains in the dark.
3. Outdated laws.
The fast growth of the space industry had rendered governing space laws and regulations as outdated and limiting, making international efforts to address sustainability challenges even more difficult for private enterprises and countries.
Some of the biggest issues concerning space governance that requires immediate attention are unintentional interference of activities, the safety of space infrastructure, property rights and usage, lack of clarity in space liabilities, and secure and equitable data usage.
Strategic Actions for A Sustainable Space Economy
The challenges in achieving space sustainability are complex, but not exactly unsolvable. But to create sustainable solutions, continued collaboration and conversations will be required among global leaders and key players in the commercial space industry.
With the collaboration of McKinsey & Company and the World Economic Forum, here are five strategic plans to ensure collaborative governance and commercial value generation in an accessible, self-sustaining space ecosystem:
1. Implement effective space governance.
Leaders can start by defining property ownership, access, and usage rights in the ecosystem. All key stakeholders must have a common understanding of who has access and can use properties and resources. New governing laws and regulations must be established to provide clarity for all participating parties.
In addition, industry collaboration on a new set of standards must be made. While the International Organization for Standardization already has a wide range of space system regulations, expansion to other areas such as interchangeability of resources, reuse of parts, and real-time communication should be added for better space management.
2. Invest resources to enable technologies and capabilities.
Long-term investments and adequate resources are vital in achieving goals and ambitions in the space sector. Analysts recommend prioritizing investments and resource distribution on technologies such as advanced power and propulsion, component improvement and miniaturization, and artificial intelligence.
Government support is also an important undertaking that organizations should consider. Since space endeavors had long been a national imperative, collaboration with government sectors can help drive progress in otherwise uncertain timelines or limited technologies that private enterprises usually have to deal with.
3. Prioritize collaboration among all key sectors.
For every strategic plan for space, global collaboration has accelerated research, exploration, and innovation. The International Space Station (ISS) served as a home base for such purposes where approximately 3000 space experiments were accomplished, and 48 astronauts from different nations convened.
To continue efficient collaboration, industry leaders should be seeking achievable opportunities that are mutually beneficial for all. For example, perceiving drawbacks such as impacts on near-term profits and encouraging bilateral and multilateral partnerships among nations with aligned values will be a huge factor in advancing the commercial and economic space industry.
4. Foster a self-sustaining industrial base.
To unlock the full potential of the space economy, space sector players should grow and support a talent network dedicated to it. Start by seeking government endorsement for commercial space discoveries and technologies, and request support in funding and incentives for technological breakthroughs. In this way, more talent will be attracted to the emerging but viable space sector.
Enterprises can also focus on increasing dialogue among space companies and end-users, as well as potential gains on space among decision makers. By keeping all stakeholders informed, organizations will continue to cultivate a broader, developing ecosystem for the future of the space economy.
5. Leverage the space sector to advance sustainability and security.
Satellite data is one of the main reasons why leading organizations are joining the space race. Governing bodies are able to acquire valuable security intelligence to intercept dangerous threats and national emergencies. Meanwhile, business leaders are able to create better action plans to combat climate change.
For our society to continuously sustain these gains, enterprises should embrace accountability and transparency in sustainable business practices. Some strategies include applying international sustainability metrics for both pre-and post-launching of missions, working on net-zero emissions and net-zero debris generation, and gaining investments in green operations.
As we continue to achieve sustainability on our planet, we must also not ignore our responsibility for space. The answer is clear, as it is here on Earth: we need a global consensus to make our space ambitions a beneficial and sustainable endeavor for all. After all, the growing space economy will be of little value to us – especially if it will only compromise our efforts for a sustainable future.
Data. Photo by NASA on Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/_SFJhRPzJHs
Satellite. Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/Wj1D-qiOseE
Rocket. Photo by Pixabay. https://www.pexels.com/photo/flight-sky-earth-space-2166/
Space Staff. Photo by Mikhail Nilov. https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-spacesuit-looking-at-a-screen-inside-a-shuttle-7672015/