Space Sustainability 101

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.


More than one thousand satellites orbit Earth providing tangible social, scientific, strategic and economic benefits to billions of individuals across the globe.

Yet the ability to provide important benefits from outer space is now threatened by a number of challenges.  One is the increasing density of debris in orbit. Some experts predict the debris population will reach a level at which it becomes self-sustaining: debris-on-debris collisions would continue to increase the amount of debris in orbit, even without new launches.

Increasing crowding in key orbits also presents a challenge to space operations. For example, communication satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), the equatorial orbit where satellites appear to remain nearly stationary above Earth, face increased competition for orbital slots as a result of the global communications. This crowding has led to the potential for radio frequency interference and a shrinking margin of error for maintaining separation between satellites. In addition, spacecraft face an especially high risk in Sun-synchronous orbits (SSO), which are primarily used by Earth observation satellites that pass through the polar regions at very similar altitudes multiple times each day. Satellites in SSO experience a high risk of collision, either with other satellites or with debris.

Secure World Foundation and its partners worldwide are dedicated to the establishment of effective and efficient systems of governance for outer space and improving the safety of operations in Earth orbit. This effort includes developing tools of governance that lead to reducing the threat of orbital debris, promoting international civil space situational awareness to improve knowledge and transparency, and preventing the creation of additional debris through hostile acts.

Satellites And Orbital Debris

Next: Why Care About Space Sustainability?

Last updated on April 2, 2013