World Space Week and Sustainability

Space Satellite

“Space and Sustainability” was the theme of this year’s World Space Week, an annual international celebration of science and technology. As we highlighted in our previous article, there is an increasing focus on sustainability in the space and satellite sector, and in this article, written by future Foot Anstey Trainee Solicitor, Halo Garrity, we will consider recent updates and actions coming out of World Space Week events.

Sustainability on Earth

We work with and support Spaceport Cornwall, which is a consortium of partners including The Cornwall Council, Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd, the UK Space Agency and Virgin Orbit. Spaceport Cornwall’s goal is to be the most sustainable spaceport in the world and its first ever orbital satellite launch from the UK is due imminently.

Spaceport Cornwall is paving the way for environmentally responsible launches through the use of an existing airport runway and facilities located close by. It aims to be the first Net-Zero spaceport in the world and has committed to achieving carbon neutral status by 2030. Further sustainability commitments include a 10% biodiversity gain within the spaceport development zone, as well as hosting the Eden Project’s National Wildflower Collection.

The Edinburgh-based space business, Skyrora, which designs, manufactures and deploys rockets, is examining its procurement methods and seeking to source most of its supply chain from local companies and contractors to minimise its carbon footprint. While a great way to address sustainability, changes in the supply chain could have NSI Act implications, which is a complex area of law we have been helping space sector businesses to navigate.

The UK Space Agency has chosen sustainability as one of its eight priority areas for the next three years, with a dedicated budget of around £98million to take on the challenge. Similarly, Space Scotland recently published Space Sustainability: A Roadmap for Scotland, identifying sustainability as key to Scotland’s plans to create 20,000 jobs and secure a £4billion share of the global space market.

Sustainability in Space

Responsible management of the technology we send into space is a pressing concern. There are over 130 million pieces of debris in orbit, the majority of which are in low earth orbit where most satellites operate. The cost per kilo of reaching low earth orbit has fallen dramatically making access to space more cost effective, but without careful management of increased launch activity, space congestion could restrict future launch activity.

In a bid to prevent increased levels of space debris, the Government has committed not to destructively test direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missiles. This follows a similar commitment made by the United States earlier in the year.

The UKSA has committed £102million over the next three years to deliver capabilities to track objects in space and reduce debris, with ClearSpace and Astroscale awarded £4million to design missions to remove existing pieces of space debris. In-orbit servicing and manufacturing are absolutely key in extending the lifespan of satellites and ensuring a far more sustainable sector, and these services are highlighted in the Government’s Enabling Technology Programme: an opportunity for applications of innovative technology in the UK space sector to apply for funding.

The role of space data in tackling climate change

Satellite data provides 50% of the world's climate change data which makes the space and satellite sector instrumental in tackling climate change. The European Space Agency’s "Biomass" satellite is due to launch in 2024 and will be the first satellite to carry a P-band radar which is capable of measuring biomass in a given area. Biomass will monitor our forests,  giving us a better understanding of how they are changing and their role in the carbon cycle: a task impossible to do from Earth.

Kernow Sat-1, which will be among the first satellites to be launched from Spaceport Cornwall, will monitor the health of Cornwall’s coastal areas and identify pollution. Our client Aspia Space has recently joined NVIDIA Inception, allowing it to scale up its AI-accelerated Earth observation products that can be used for environmental management.

Future Focus

The environmental impact of the space and satellite sector will become increasingly important in discussions around licensing, insurance, and liability. The UK Government Space Sustainability Standard, currently under development, is expected to incentivise sustainable practices.

A sustainable UK space sector means one that is economically sustainable too and the UKSA has highlighted the need to “catalyse investment” as the first of its three overarching priorities.

To succeed in obtaining private finance, businesses need to be investment ready, have strong sustainability plans in place and be ready to answer sustainability impact questions for each stage of the business. Our expertise in net zero and supporting SMEs to unlock the power of private finance means Foot Anstey is ready to join your space team and support your sustainability goals.