Insight - SWF and the UK Space Agency Hosted the 4th Summit for Space Sustainability

Friday, July 1, 2022

The 4th Summit for Space Sustainability was held on June 22-23, 2022, at the Science Museum in London, co-hosted by the Secure World Foundation and the UK Space Agency. The Summit was a huge success as the SWF’s first hybrid, international, and most attended Summit thus far. All the sessions were live-streamed, and the recordings are available on the Summit website. We were honored to host distinguished panelists and keynote speakers and to be joined by guests from all over the world in-person and online. We are also thankful to our numerous sponsors and partners for making the Summit such an amazing event.  The following is a summary of the Summit where fruitful discussions to find solutions for space sustainability as well as announcements of exciting initiatives took place.

The Summit was kicked off by the Opening Remarks by both leaders of the co-host organizations: the SWF Executive Director Peter Martinez, and the UK Space Agency CEO Paul Bate. The first panel on Orbital Capacity discussed current state of knowledge regarding orbital carrying capacity and space environment thresholds - the maximum number of space objects which can sustainably be operated in LEO orbits - and the operational and regulatory implications of these assessments. From a satellite operator, research, and regulatory standpoint the panelist emphasized the need to mature carrying capacity modeling, integrate operational experience and build regulatory capacity. It was followed by a panel on Space Traffic Management (STM). The panelists discussed how the American and European Union STM frameworks emphasize the importance of developing recommended practices and standards as the baseline for a future STM regime while recognizing the need for national regulatory frameworks to clarify who has authority for oversight of future space activities.

The third panel was on Rules-based Order, where the panelists discussed steps that can be taken to reinforce and solidify space governance to help promote responsible behavior and space sustainability. Experts from government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, and the commercial space sector discuss issues such as: What do we mean by “rules-based order”? Is there a common understanding of what this means? During this panel, Rajeev Suri - The CEO of Inmarsat referenced the Inmarsat Space Sustainability Report, which was launched earlier that day. The last panel of the day was on Space PR issues. The panelists highlighted how public perception of space activities is influenced by news and social media and encouraged the audience to rethink how the industry conducts public outreach. To close out the day with a bang, we are honored to have a special message from His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales who shared his view and pressed on the importance of space sustainability as a part of the broader initiative of global sustainability.

On the second day of the Summit, the panel on Banning the Deliberate Creation of Debris highlighted some interest in discussing a ban on destructive ASAT testing as part of these discussions, but still lots of uncertainty over how many countries might support such a ban and how it would be verified. Civil society - including both NGOs and industry - need to play a bigger role in advocating for such a ban and articulating why it would benefit a sustainable future in space for all. It was followed by a panel on the state of Living in LEO, which discussed gaps in regulatory and legal regimes that currently exist to govern space stations and how best to ensure that the evolving use of LEO is done in a sustainable and cooperative manner. The panelists highlighted the complicated role of liability and responsibility in shifting to commercial space stations and noted the importance of having common understandings for rules of the road to help set expectations for the accountability of commercial space stations.

In the afternoon, the Summit offered dual parallel tracks on Active Debris Removal (ADR) and Moon Governance. This panel emphasized the need to focus on mitigation of debris creation through satellite design, operations, and de-orbiting practices as preventative measures before active debris removal is necessary and discussed priorities in building and scaling commercial activities focused on debris mitigation, in particular the challenge of transitioning from technology demonstration to commercial capability. During this panel the X-Prize Foundation announced the development of a new prize focused on debris removal. The Moon Governance panel discussed the potentially competing drives of lunar actors to, on the one hand, be the first to successfully execute cutting-edge lunar activities such as resource use, lunar infrastructure, and related activities, and to do so in a profitable manner, and on the other hand, to set precedence for future lunar actors and for the emergence of lunar norms of behavior which will ensure a peaceful and sustainable environment amongst lunar stakeholders. 

The Summit for Space Sustainability also proudly featured a number of unique keynote addresses. The first keynote speaker was Richard DalBello, who gave the first public address since he was named the Director of US NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce. He spoke to the Summit attendees about the new role of the Office of Space Commerce and exciting initiatives they are planning to work on. The keynote address from the UK government was Minister George Freeman who made the important announcement on the package of new measures to drive space sustainability. The last keynote session was a unique opportunity to hear from executives from Amazon, Project Kuiper and OneWeb on the same stage. They emphasized their joint commitment to space sustainability and pointed to efforts by industry, in partnership with government in such areas as spectrum management, collision avoidance, and on-orbit servicing technologies. 

Finally, this event featured a number of Spotlight Talks, a series of short presentations by high-level leaders in the industry that highlight unique projects, challenges or ideas about space sustainability. Connie Walker presented on optical astronomy and very large constellations; Moriba Jah on commercial space situational awareness data; Marie Le Pellec on Australia's space sustainability policy plans; Frederic Rouesnel on ESA's perspectives on space sustainability; and Jeremy Giampaoli on commercial satellite servicing capabilities. Steven Freeland presented on space resources; Florian Micco and Adrien Saada on the Space Sustainability Rating; Lucie Green on space weather and satellites, Mark Boggett on ESG and space sustainability, and Katherine Courtney on the next generation of space sustainability leaders.

In conclusion, the 4th Summit for Space Sustainability was full of substantive discussions by excellent speakers and distinguished keynotes, and valuable networking opportunities for both in-person and online attendees. SWF is committed to continue the conversations and efforts towards finding solutions in space sustainability, and to inspire the next generations of leaders in space sustainability. We look forward to welcoming old and new friends in the future Summits for Space Sustainability.

Last updated on June 30, 2023