Sustainable Space Summit highlights urgent need for further engagement

Satellites vs Debris

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The Sustainable Space Summit, organised by the Scottish Space Leadership Council (SSLC), took place at the end of June, following months of engagement between space and environmental sectors. The ground-breaking event received the endorsement and support of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and European Space Agency (ESA) Director-General Dr Josef Aschbacher highlighting the urgent need for further engagement to address the growing problem of space debris and space sustainability.

The online virtual Summit showcased findings to attendees from around the world bringing together global space sector stakeholders, a panel of high-profile speakers, and environmental groups, to explore solutions to sustainability-focused challenges. The Summit programme included sessions from ESA’s Chief Climate and Sustainability Officer Andrea Vena on their Charter for a Responsible Space Sector, as well as the Scotch Whisky Association’s Head of Sustainability, Morag Garden, who has steered her sector towards a more organised approach to environmental protection.

“We must focus on sustainability” stated First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in her opening introduction. “Space technologies will have an increasing role in the fight against climate change, but the sector must continue to reduce its own environmental impact, that is particularly a concern right now for Scotland, five months before COP26 will take place in Glasgow.”

A panel discussion on “The Value of Space” provided an overview of the benefits that space access brings to society and the ways that space organisations are already working towards a more sustainable future. Contributors to that session included representatives from the UK Space Agency, Seraphim Capital, KPMG and Friends of the Earth Scotland.

Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth at the UK Space Agency, stated: “Space-based observation is at the forefront of efforts to understand and mitigate the extent and impact of climate change, and images from space are also helping track and combat deforestation and illegal fishing and poaching around the world.  But it’s clear that the sector needs to do more to become more sustainable, from developing more efficient fuels to reducing the environmental footprint of spaceports, and from cleaning up debris in space itself to continuing to look at how we can reuse and recycle equipment.  These events showcased the industry’s willingness to grasp the sustainability agenda and help deliver solutions to some of the most challenging issues of our times”.

The Summit, which was hosted by science broadcaster Dallas Campbell and Planetary Scientist Dr. Suzie Imber, followed an SSLC initiative that welcomed sustainability-focused challenges set by environmental groups, academia, businesses and the wider public. Submissions were reviewed by an independent judging panel and then addressed by representatives from the space industry during online workshops throughout April and May.

Kristina Tamane, Space Business Development Executive at the University of Edinburgh and Co-Chair of the SSLC Environmental Task Force explained, “‘The Sustainable Space Challenges is an important programme of work which has only just started. The Summit was a chance for us to set the scene for this long-term journey to make the space sector more sustainable. There are so many space companies in Scotland and the UK that are making a real effort to focus on the environment. We’re thrilled to have had such positive and proactive engagement from industry, government, academia and environmental groups.”

Three main challenges were identified as a result of the initiative, focusing on finding a universal approach to measuring the space sector’s environmental impact, developing an open library of space data to connect citizen science initiatives with environmental data, and assessing the growing problem of low-orbiting space debris.

Daniel Smith, Co-Chair of the Scottish Space Leadership Council and Founder of strategic space marketing firm AstroAgency said, “We’re delighted that the initiative enabled such a diverse range of organisations to work together in collaboration. Following the positive feedback and high level of interest in the Summit, we’re keen to build on momentum and continue to lead by example, helping ensure the UK space sector can benefit from the development of an increasingly sustainable approach to space”.

The Summit, which attracted science, technology, academic, environment and space enthusiasts from around the world with nearly 500 registrations, is now available to view on the Scottish Space Leadership Council’s YouTube channel.

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