current newsEnglish – According to astronomers, space should be given the same level of legal protection as the land, sea, and atmosphere, to protect its fragile environment.
Reported from Dailymail.co.ukon May 13, low-Earth orbit, such as the region several hundred miles above the planet, is at risk from space debris, and objects that cause light pollution for astronomers viewing space from Earth, according to a new study published in the journal led by the University of Edinburgh.
The satellite cluster, including SpaceX Starlink, all orbit about 300 miles above Earth’s surface, thus “endangering this precious ecosystem,” the researchers said.
The installation of these enormous clusters of hardware, some with up to tens of thousands of satellites sending broadband to Earth, condenses space and rocket launches also pollutes the atmosphere, they added.
The research relates to a legal case before the US Court of Appeals, which will set an important precedent in the growing campaign for the space environment.
Addressing this issue requires a holistic approach that treats orbital space as part of the environment and worthy of environmental protection, at national and international levels, said the team behind the research.
The Scottish team says policymakers must work together to create a shared, ethical and sustainable approach to space.
This isn’t just a threat to Earth, as pieces of damaged satellites, traveling at incredible speeds through space, threaten satellites working in their paths, the paper said.
In addition, streaks from the reflection of satellite light that cause light pollution further interfere with research.
Chile’s giant Vera C. Rubin Observatory, which aims to conduct a 10-year Space and Time Heritage Survey, will be badly affected, for example.
They argue that outer space is a vital environment for professional astronomers, amateur stargazers, natives, and the new space economy.
The scientific, economic and cultural benefits of space must be carefully weighed against these damaging environmental impacts, they wrote.
The researchers urge policymakers to consider the environmental impacts of all aspects of the satellite constellation, including its launch, operation, and de-orbit.
It comes as SpaceX looks set to launch a total of 13,000 satellites, Amazon is buying rocket space to put thousands of satellites into orbit by 2025, and other companies and countries like China are planning to do the same in the years to come.
Professor Andy Lawrence, lead author, said Earth is currently at a pivotal moment in history, where low-cost launches will increase the number of satellites.
“We can cheaply launch a large number of satellites and use them for the benefit of life on Earth, but this comes at a cost. In addition to undermining stargazing, the space industry may be shooting itself down,” he said.
Professor Lawrence brought this issue to popular attention in his book, Losing The Sky, which led him to write expert witness statements for US legal cases.
It is currently before the US Court of Appeals which argues that US environmental regulations should apply to space launch licenses.
Professor Moriba Jah, co-author and Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at The University of Texas at Austin, said everything is interconnected, including when it comes to outer space.
“We must embrace stewardship as if our lives depended on it. Traditional ecological knowledge holds the key to solving this evil problem,” said Prof Jah.
“The biggest challenge we have is in recruiting empathy and compassion to solve this environmental crisis.”
“If we can find innovative ways to allow the general public to project themselves into these dire conditions, and feel concerned about addressing them, the earth, and all the life it supports, wins.”
Professor Jah recently founded startup Privateer Space with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Ripcord CEO Alex Fielding.
The company is taking a new approach to accurately mapping objects in orbit, in near real-time, to enable continued use of space by a growing number of operators.
Dr Meredith Rawls, co-author and researcher at the University of Washington, said some telescopes and services would be more affected than others.
“The Rubin Observatory will be one of the astronomical facilities hardest hit by a large number of bright satellites because of its large mirrors and wide field of view, or the same characteristics that make it an outstanding engine for discovery,” he said.
“I care a lot about how satellite streaks affect science, but the case for dark, calm skies is much bigger than that.”
“We need all hands on deck to tackle the rapidly changing satellite situation if we are to hope to co-create a future with dark skies and calm for everyone.”
Dr Rawls is a leading actor at the new International Astronomical Union (IAU) Center for the Protection of Dark and Calm Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference which aims to bring together skywatching stakeholders to collaborate on measuring, mitigating and spreading satellite impacts.