The Quest for a Sustainable Space
Dec 15 / 2020
Written By Karol Sperczyński
In the last decade, we have seen a massive progression of space aviation technology, but we need to ask a question: "What long-term effect will we have on the space environment if we persist with our approach?"
Although we're celebrating all of our amazing recent progress, now is also the time to start worrying about the future and where we're heading. Because on the surface, we might be moving mountains when it comes to the tech we're building, yet we could also have a destructive effect on the space ecosystem, and in turn, ourselves.

One of the major problems that we're facing is space debris, essentially chunks of broken-down satellites, rocket stages, or other space instruments, continually orbiting the Earth and posing a threat to our future of space exploration. It is a constant danger to any manned or cargo mission to orbit. Were any collision to happen with, let's say, a rocket carrying supplies to the ISS, the whole vehicle could disintegrate and fall apart into tens of thousands of smithereens, further littering the orbit. This way any accident would escalate the chance of other collisions happening, which we call the Kessler Effect. This is very much a crucial thing that we need to address as soon as possible. If we don't act now, the problem of space debris will only escalate until it's already too late. However, there are already ways to fix it.

The topic of littering the orbit receives increasingly more attention every year. It's no surprise then that space agencies and privately-funded space companies have started developing solutions to address this problem. One prominent example of this is Clearspace Today, a pioneering mission to remove debris from the Earth orbit. Its goal is to create the technology required to enable debris removal, and it is not an easy one. Objects in the low Earth orbit move at speeds that exceed 7 kilometers per second, and thus the mission requires extreme precision. Only when given due care, the objects can be brought to a very low Earth orbit, where they burn in the atmosphere due to air drag and stop being an issue in cluttering space. However, there also is another, less wasteful approach to space trash that we could take, as the free-roaming chunks of space vehicles are not the only problem - there still are intact satellites that would only need servicing to be brought back to life. So rather than bringing the retired satellites down, we could restore or even upgrade them, essentially giving them a second life and removing the need to launch new satellites to orbit. NASA is currently working on a spacecraft that could automate this process, named OSAM-1. It could provide the aerospace sector with a vast diversity of possibilities, as new tech may be fitted to previously decommissioned satellites. Luckily, these projects and undertakings alike keep moving forward and are on a great path to change our course for the creation of a sustainable space environment in the next ten years.

Although the research is moving forward, and new technology is formulated, the development of these projects can be problematic. These great envisions not only require the grand thought they were given but also need appropriate funding. Although the collaborations between space agencies and the startup companies working on the tech are, in principle, the reason why they've gotten so far, they might not be entirely sufficient to develop these solutions quickly enough. As the process of building and testing the spacecraft is highly resource-demanding, finding a better way to raise money would be very beneficial. Our goal should be to open the space economy to the general public, globally, while also making it easier for governments or major venture capitalists to supply the funds necessary to speed up the development. We could expect quite a high interest in investing or even cause funding these kinds of projects, as there is a multitude of ways they could be utilized for better commercializing space. All and all, we need to see a democratization of the space market.

Fortunately, by applying new technologies, models, and approaches to the space economy, new startups and projects are coming into play, and they might change the tide. Easy-to-access and simple-to-use online marketplaces have completely changed the landscape of high-tech industries and the modern economy, while the tokenization boom of the past few years has shown us a new way to better secure and transact digital value. In the near future, these factors will provide us with new avenues of funding for space projects and create an open marketplace that will positively contribute to the growth of the space sector. Perhaps this will also allow for building a sustainable space environment in which we focus not only on what we're sending to space but also on how we safely dispose of the remains of our projects afterward.

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