Unified for Clean Space

As we keep pushing the limits of what is possible in space, we must make sure that future generations will be able to reach and safely explore space.

If you think about it, econom­ic models are more of psycho­logical models that define our behaviour. They program our be­haviour towards the envi­ronment and let’s be hon­est our behaviours have not reaped healthy re­sults. Today, the oceans are flooded with plas­tic, and it seems like matter has evolved and humans have devolved.

Our same behaviour has result­ed in the problem of space de­bris that poses a serious threat. About 37,000 pieces of space debris bigger than 10 centime­ters are now in orbit, and anoth­er million pieces smaller than 10 centimeters are also estimat­ed to be there. Some sources say that more than a million satellites could be heading toward Earth.

Space sustainability relooks at the universe, it revisits space with a lens of stewardship re­defining our behaviour towards serving rather than exercising. Cleaning up space is similar to trying to clean up a place that has been cluttered for decades but with the extra twists of le­gal tapes, political clashes, and some complicated scientific is­sues. Imagine trying to pick up pieces of trash that are rapidly gathering around the Earth, and if you deal with them incorrectly, you might cause an even bigger problem. Plus, before you even begin, you must get authoriza­tion from several different coun­tries that cannot always agree on who should conduct the cleaning or who will pay for it.

It’s critical that we figure this out because all of that debris fly­ing around could make it difficult for astronauts to safely explore space or for everyone to launch missions to other planets.

Fortunately, recent initiatives demonstrate the internation­al community’s commitment to resolving the critical issue of space debris while also encour­aging responsible exploration and the use of outer space. Pri­vateer Space is an example in it­self. Founded by Dr. Moriba Jah, Steve Wozniak and Alex Fielding, Privateer Space is developing in­novative solutions to keep space clean. They intend to build some­thing similar to a large fishing net that can travel into space and gather debris. This large fishing net would function by floating around in orbit and collecting all the bits of old satellites and met­al that are floating around. Once the net catches this space trash, it may be securely sent back to Earth or sent into orbit where it will not harm anyone. Consider it a space version of garbage trucks.

Privateer Space started the Pono project at the end of Novem­ber 2023. “Doing what’s right” is what Pono means in Hawaiian. Pono is all about getting a better look at space to keep track of the junk that’s floating around. Here, a data ride sharing system is be­ing made so that everyone can share knowledge about where space debris is. This will help keep satellites safe and avoid col­lisions. This is a part of a bigger plan to make a long-lasting way to get to and use space data.

As a Chief Scientist Officer at Privateer, Dr. Moriba Jah is think­ing about more than just clean­ing up the area. By reusing and recovering what is already there, he means stopping a problem be­fore it starts. In his most recent works, Dr. Moriba Jah imagines a world where space is sustainable through a circular space economy that focuses on recycling and re­using space assets to cut down on waste and fight space debris. By reusing and recovering what is al­ready there, he means stopping a problem before it starts. The idea behind this is that we should be smart about our time in space so that it stays clean and safe for ev­eryone in the future. He empha­sises in his writings how impor­tant it is to use data to help control space traffic and encourages in­ternational collaboration in these efforts. Dr. Moriba Jah’s vision is a call to action that urges people around the world to come up with creative and responsible stan­dards to keep space travel safe and viable for future generations.\

One of the recent companies that have raised a voice for space sustainability is Space Guardian, which is Pakistan’s first space sustainability research compa­ny, using Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) for research and policy creation. The research at Space Guardian looks at space travel through the lens of TEK to make sure that our adventures beyond Earth are safe and open to everyone. It may be possible to protect the final boundary for fu­ture generations by “combining ancient wisdom with modern sci­ence”, as Dr. Moriba Jah says.

These case studies highlight the dynamic and cooperative ef­forts being made to make sure that space travel is beyond a race and for higher purposes. Not only do they show how important it is to keep improving technology and working together with oth­er countries, but they also show how space is becoming more and more seen as a global asset that needs to be carefully controlled. As we keep pushing the limits of what is possible in space, we must make sure that future gen­erations will be able to reach and safely explore space.

Usman Ali Awan
The writer is a Space Generation Advisory Council member and a space sustainability writer.

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