Space Commerce

The Case For Space Environmentalism

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
April 25, 2022
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The Case For Space Environmentalism
Space debris

The shell bound by the Karman line at a height of 80 to 100km above the Earth’s surface, and Geosynchronous Orbit, at 36,000km, is defined as the orbital space surrounding the Earth.
It is within this region, and especially in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), where environmental issues are becoming urgent because of the rapid growth of the anthropogenic space object population, including satellite “mega-constellations”. In this Perspective, we summarise the case that the orbital space around the Earth should be considered an additional ecosystem, and so subject to the same care and concerns and the same broad regulations as, for example, the oceans and the atmosphere. We rely on the orbital space environment by looking through it as well as by working within it.

Hence, we should consider damage to professional astronomy, public stargazing and the cultural importance of the sky, as well as the sustainability of commercial, civic and military activity in space. Damage to the orbital space environment has problematic features in common with other types of environmental issue. First, the observed and predicted damage is incremental and complex, with many contributors. Second, whether or not space is formally and legally seen as a global commons, the growing commercial exploitation of what may appear a “free” resource is in fact externalising the true costs.

A. Lawrence, M. L. Rawls, M. Jah, A. Boley, F. Di Vruno, S. Garrington, M. Kramer, S. Lawler, J. Lowenthal, J. McDowell, M. McCaughrean

Comments: 19 pages, 6 figures. To be published in Nature Astronomy April 22nd 2022. For consistency with Nature policy, the version posted here is the final submitted author text. The final version is available at the DOI below, and differs slightly in wording
Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Physics and Society (physics.soc-ph)
Cite as: arXiv:2204.10025 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2204.10025v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
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Submission history
From: Andy Lawrence
[v1] Thu, 21 Apr 2022 11:19:41 UTC (4,130 KB)

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