Commercial space industry: the new guardian of space sustainability Photo: NASA, STS-31 Earth observation of western United States, Salton Sea, Imperial Valley

Commercial space industry: the new guardian of space sustainability

Commercial space companies often make headlines for their technological advances and mission success. Beyond their technical achievements, they also actively engage in the governance of space activities.

The commercial space industry is taking action to promote space sustainability. In March, the Secure World Foundation announced an update to the ‘Space Industry Statement in Support of International Commitments to Not Conduct Destructive Anti-Satellite Testing’ (the ‘Space Industry Statement’), which introduced six new signatories. This development has expanded the total number of signatories to 44 companies from 13 countries. This, coupled with other initiatives undertaken by the private sector, underlines the growing involvement of private space actors in promoting the sustainability of outer space. This blog post introduces three key industry initiatives and outlines their significance in safeguarding a more sustainable space environment.

Space Industry Statement

The Space Industry Statement, launched by the Secure World Foundation in November 2023, aims to ban destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) tests. The statement highlights that these tests can create long-lasting orbital debris, posing a direct threat to the safety and sustainability of the space environment. Recognising the ‘growing societal reliance on space applications and services’, the statement lends support to existing commitments made by an increasing number of countries to refraining from conducting destructive ASAT tests. Furthermore, it encourages other nations to join and make similar declarations.

These commitments align with the United Nations General Assembly resolution 77/41 of 7 December 2022 (‘Destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing’), which calls upon all States to pledge not to conduct destructive direct-ascent ASAT missile testing. This resolution was initiated by the US, which made an announcement in April 2022 pledging that it would not conduct this kind of testing. Many countries later followed suit, including all European Union Member States. The space industry’s endorsement of these international commitments demonstrates commercial actors’ vested interest in safeguarding the space environment.

The Net Zero Space initiative

Launched at the Paris Peace Forum in 2021, the Net Zero Space initiative aims to ‘ensure safe space operations and the long-term sustainability of outer space activities’. To this end, it calls for ‘a global commitment to achieving sustainable use of outer space for the benefit of all humankind by 2030’. More specifically, it encourages space operators to avoid generating hazardous space debris and to remediate existing debris. The Net Zero Space initiative currently has 65 supporters from 24 countries. Notably, it has established two working groups that provide policy and technical recommendations respectively, which are aimed at achieving sustainable use of outer space.

The Space Safety Coalition

Another remarkable step has been taken by the Space Safety Coalition (SSC). The SSC is an ad hoc coalition of space industry stakeholders that actively promotes responsible space safety. In 2019, it published its ‘Best Practices for the Sustainability of Space Operation’, which were subsequently updated in 2023. The purpose of this document is to address the gaps in current space governance and promote better practices in order to enhance long-term space sustainability. Many of these practices – such as the recommended rules of the road in space to avoid collisions and reduce debris creation – are of direct relevance to space sustainability. With 40 endorsements across the globe so far, the Best Practices reflect a joint effort within the commercial space industry to establish and adhere to high standards for responsible and sustainable space activities.

Significance of industry-led initiatives for space sustainability

The three key industry-led initiatives discussed in this blog post underline the significant role of commercial space operators in advancing space sustainability. According to Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, States are obliged to authorise and continuously supervise private activities in outer space. This constitutes the rationale for many States to develop national space legislation to regulate private space activities. The initiatives taken by the commercial space industry to promote more responsible behaviour in space indicate that these entities are not merely subject to regulation – they can also actively contribute to the development of space law.

The commercial industry’s motivation to promote space sustainability can be explained by the fact that commercial space revenue represents nearly 80% of the thriving space economy. It is therefore in the interest of the commercial sector to ensure that space remains a safe, sustainable environment for operations. As private actors are now taking the lead in the previously State-dominated space sector, their contributions mark a significant step towards space sustainability in two aspects. Firstly, as commercial companies directly engage in space operations, their best practices can offer policymakers insights on conducting sustainable space activities, serving as a foundation for further legal development. Secondly, in light of the privatisation and commercialisation of space activities, the faithful implementation of commitments by signatories to these initiatives could already result in a considerable shift towards more sustainable activities in outer space. With more actors joining these initiatives, the commercial space industry may well evolve into the new guardian of space sustainability.


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