At the G7 leaders summit in Cornwall, Member States’ delegates jointly committed to the “safe and sustainable use of space” by stepping up efforts to tackle the problem of space debris.
Tens of thousands of large objects contaminate low-Earth orbit, such as defunct satellites and abandoned launch vehicles, as well as more than 100 million pieces of small space debris such as fragments of broken spacecraft, human debris and paint stains.
A piece of space debris as small as 1cm in size could penetrate the walls of a spacecraft in orbit, thanks to the tremendous speeds of objects in orbit, and several spacecraft have already been damaged or destroyed by space debris.
Recently, the ISS was hit by a small piece of space debris that left a hole in its 17-meter-long robotic arm. Governments, businesses, academics and advocacy groups have recognized the need to manage space debris, through measures ranging from active disposal of space debris to policies that discourage leaving spacecraft and other objects in low Earth orbit after their useful lives.
Representatives from the UK, EU, US, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan have now pledged to take action to tackle space debris. “We are committed to the safe and sustainable use of space to support humanity’s aspirations now and in the future,” they said in a joint statement.
“We recognize the growing danger of space debris and increasing congestion in Earth’s orbit. As our planet’s orbit is a fragile and valuable environment that is becoming increasingly crowded and that all nations must collectively protect to protect, we agree to strengthen our efforts to ensure sustainable use of space for the benefit and in the interest of all countries .
“We welcome the UN’s Long Term Sustainability Guidelines and call on others to join us in implementing these guidelines. We welcome all public and commercial efforts in debris removal and maintenance activities into the track and commit to encourage further institutional or industrial research and development of these services.
We recognize the importance of developing common standards, best practices and guidelines related to sustainable space operations, in addition to the need for a joint approach to space traffic management and coordination.”
The statement recognized the importance of groups such as the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Space; the International Organization for Standardization and the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee, which call on all countries to work with them to preserve the space environment in the long term. Amanda Solloway, UK Science Secretary, added:
“Space enables services we rely on every day, from communicating with our loved ones to monitoring the effects of climate change. Each country must unite to strengthen our efforts to ensure that their continued use is safe, sustainable and serves all.
Today’s announcement is an important milestone in recognizing the need to develop common standards for sustainable space operations and to collaborate on the management and coordination of space traffic.
” Last year, the UK Space Agency awarded £1 million to seven companies developing projects to help actively remove space debris from orbit. More recently, the agency called on aerospace companies to bid for a share of an £800,000 fund to develop new concepts for removing space debris.
Simonetta Di Pippo, director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, said: “There is an urgent need to stabilize global space operations. We must future-proof operations now to provide a safe, secure and sustainable space environment tomorrow.
I welcome this clear commitment by G7 leaders to put space sustainability at the heart of the political agenda, and only through such leadership, where all nations work together, will we preserve the space environment for generations to come.
” Meanwhile, Australian and German leaders used the G7 summit as an opportunity to sign a treaty committing countries to work together to develop technology to help achieve such a “net zero emissions future,” with an emphasis on emerging low-carbon or zero-carbon technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture Australia has not yet formally committed to the 2050 net-zero target shared by many of its allies, including the UK and the EU.