In September 2020, the Space Generation Advisory Council’s Space Law and Policy Project Group established the Space Sustainability subgroup. The aim of the subgroup was to raise awareness about the Guidelines on the Long Term Sustainability of Space Activities 2019 (LTS) of the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) and understand the level of implementation by states and international organizations. The subgroup aimed to contribute to Guideline C.4 which deals with raising awareness on the importance of long-term sustainability of outer space activities. The subgroup comprised young professionals and students from different continents, either working in or studying the space sector respectively. Representing different countries, the members were also keen to assess how their respective countries implemented the LTS Guidelines. A preliminary analysis of the implementation plans was prepared and submitted to the 62nd United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses Of Outer Space Legal Subcommittee (UNCOPUOS LSC) in June 2021. Pursuant to the good reception of the presentation at the UNCOPUOS LSC (2021), the subgroup decided to expand the research into a full report that assessed the trends of implementation by various states and international organizations, with corresponding examples of implementation. The report is divided into 3 chapters, summarised as below.
Chapter I: “Space law and space sustainability: An analysis of treaty provisions relevant to sustainability in space”
The chapter examines the provisions of the United Nations’ space treaties that are relevant to maintain sustainability in outer space. Article VI of the OST obliges states to authorize and supervise their space activities, including those conducted by private/non-governmental entities, to ensure that they are in consonance with the provisions of the treaty. Article VI, therefore, holds states responsible for conducting space activities in a safe and sustainable manner as obligated by other provisions of the treaty. Article IX of the OST obliges states to practice international cooperation, mutual assistance and due regard, while avoiding harmful interference to the space activities of other states and avoiding contamination of and adverse changes to the space environment. This provision is one of the earliest to address the issues of space safety and sustainability and continues to be a main tenet of responsible behavior and practices in outer space. Article VIII of the OST establishes jurisdiction, control, and ownership of objects launched to outer space. It is an important component to fulfill responsibilities as per Article VI of the treaty, and the provision also mandates states to register their space objects. Article II of the REG builds on Article VIII of the OST to mandate countries to maintain a national registry of space objects. Furthermore, Article III of the REG establishes a U.N registry to be maintained by the secretary general, that will bear the information of the space objects as furnished by the launching state. These provisions play a vital role in facilitating safety and sustainability of space activities by ensuring attributability and accountability.
Article VII of the OST and Article II and Article III of the LIAB establish liability for damages caused by space objects, an important element in addressing a standard of care and compensation to ensure sustainability of outer space activities. The chapter concludes that these provisions of the space treaties, together with the LTS guidelines, can prove effective in governing states’ exploration and use of outer space to ensure that space remains usable for everyone in the present and the future.
Chapter II: “Introduction to the UNCOPUOS LTS Guidelines, 2019”
The Chapter explores how the concept of “Sustainability” emerged and got extended to the realms of outer space. “Sustainable development” coined by the 1987 Brundtland Commission denotes the ability to meet the needs and aspirations of the present generation without affecting the ability of the future generations to derive the same. The principle has been used in various international instruments and conferences such as the Rio declaration 1992 and the UN SDG in 2015. The principle made its way into space exploration to strike a balance between economic growth propelled by the space industry and the need to protect the space environment for the present and future from challenges such as increasing number of space objects, space debris, advent of satellite constellations, trackability of small satellites, impacts of space weather and collision of space objects etc. Therefore, the subchapter “Background to LTS Guidelines” chronologically examines how these challenges led the international community and the members of the UNCOPUOS to arrive at a consensus to adopt the LTS guidelines, starting from the 1990s to 2019.
Chapter III: “Report on the national implementation of guidelines on the Long Term Sustainability of Space Activities 2019 (2020-22)
This chapter examines how countries and international organizations have implemented the LTS Guidelines. The chapter offers description of the guidelines, provides certain examples of implementation, and then derives the trend of implementations based on the survey of practices of the states and organizations towards each guideline. The analysis is divided into 8 thematic parts.
Part 1: Guidelines A.1 to A.5 concerning regulatory and policy frameworks for space activities
Listed examples of implementation: Australia, Brazil, European Space Agency, France, India, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States of America
- Most of the surveyed countries implemented these guidelines by either developing a policy and regulatory framework for space activities with national space legislation or by establishing a regulatory regime to authorize and supervise space activities.
- Regarding Guideline A.4, some countries engage in passivation and de-orbiting of space objects, while more countries may implement measures ensuring the efficient, rational and equitable use of radio frequencies and orbital slots.
- Pursuant to Guideline A.5, most countries also duly register their space objects in their respective national space object registries.
Recommendation: More countries may implement measures ensuring efficient, rational and equitable use of radio frequencies and orbital slots pursuant to Guideline A.4.
Part 2: Guidelines B.1 to B.3- Information on Space Objects and Orbital Events; Improving Accuracy on Orbital Data and Promoting Space Debris Monitoring Information
Listed Examples of Implementation: Australia, Russia, India, Canada, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Italy, European Space Agency, European Union, United States of America and the United Kingdom.
- Regarding Guideline B.1, a large number of surveyed countries and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) have implemented measures to offer information on their respective space objects and orbital events, with most operating functional web interfaces.
- Concerning Guideline B.2, some of the surveyed countries and IGOs have implemented measures to improve accuracy of orbital data.
- On Guideline B.3, most surveyed countries and IGOs have started to collect, share and disseminate space debris monitoring information, with some signing agreements with others to facilitate exchanges of SSA data.
- It is also observed that some countries have signed contracts with private enterprises to receive SSA data.
- More collaborative efforts are required to share SSA data with each other.
- As recommended by Guideline B.1, a dedicated consultative process preferably under UNCOPUOS may be envisaged.
Part 3: Guidelines B.4 and B.5 (Conjunction Assessments and Pre-Launch Conjunction Assessments)
Listed Examples of Implementation: Russia, Japan, India, Canada, United States of America, France and the United Kingdom
- There are varying levels of implementation of Guidelines B.4 and B.5 from surveyed countries with strong practices observed from major space faring countries while others lacked capability to conduct conjunction analyses.
- Some countries have communication/coordination mechanisms with others to facilitate an accurate conjunction risk analyses and more countries ought to tread this path.
- Countries without operational capabilities may seek support from major space faring countries with 24/7 capabilities to perform conjunction assessments.
- Furthermore, there is a need for clarity in the interpretation and practice of ‘pre-launch conjunction assessment’.
- Finally, the countries and IGOs may converge to develop an international rule for conjunction analysis and collision avoidance.
Part 4: Guidelines B.6 and B.7 (Space Weather)
Listed Examples of Implementation: Brazil, Canada, Finland, China, Asia Oceania Space Weather Alliance, International Space Environment Service, France and South Africa.
- Large number of surveyed countries have implemented guidelines B.6 and B.7 to varying degrees.
- Implementation efforts include development of monitoring capabilities and information sharing mechanisms etc.
- Most of the surveyed countries are also members of international space weather services organizations that offer space weather data to the members.
- Collaboration and information sharing practices between countries is recommended to ensure equitable access of space weather data.
- Countries may also develop capacities to utilize space weather data generated by other countries.
- In absence of funding, countries may consider leveraging their geographical location to develop space weather instruments in multilateral initiatives.
Part 5: Guideline B.8 (Design and Operation of Space Objects)
Listed Examples of Implementation: Japan, United Arab Emirates, France, Germany and the United States of America.
- Space faring countries have done well with complying with Guideline B.8 by instituting trackability requirements according to international standards from e.g., the IADC and ISO.
- Half of the surveyed countries included debris mitigation in their national legislation or licensing procedures while others indicated interest in addressing debris mitigation in future
- Strong emphasis is required on trackability of small satellites.
- Further, there may be enforcement measures for end-of-life disposal to incentivize compliance with debris mitigation requirements.
Part 6: Guidelines B.9 and B.10 (Measures to address uncontrolled re-entry of space objects and precautionary measures when using sources of laser beam passing through Outer Space)
Listed Examples of Implementation: Canada, Luxembourg, Brazil, France, European Space Agency, Germany and United States of America.
- Concerning Guideline B.9, the majority of the surveyed countries have implemented measures to address risks associated with the uncontrolled reentry of space objects, while some of them are in the process of implementing measures.
- It is expected that implementation of Guideline B.9 will grow as various countries across the globe acquire launching capabilities.
- Concerning Guideline B.10, few surveyed countries have publicly available information on how their implementing measures for this Guideline.
Recommendation: More countries may coordinate with others on use of laser beams.
Part 7: Guidelines C.1-C.4 (Promote international cooperation; share experiences; capacity building and raise awareness)
Listed Examples of Implementation: Australia, Kenya, India, United Arab Emirates, Luxembourg, China, South Africa, European Space Agency and the United Kingdom.
- On Guidelines C.1 and C.2, there is strong support from surveyed countries which reflects a positive trend that demonstrates firm multi-national support for space sustainability as a wider cause.
- Countries not active in space exploration are also exhibiting cooperative behavior with other states. Notable examples include bilateral agreements on Space Situational Awareness, and partnerships with IGOs and international organizations such as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization.
- Regarding Guideline C.3, countries, regardless of their spacefaring prowess, tend to contribute to capacity building efforts in areas such as technical training, legal, policy etc.
Recommendation: International cooperation, capacity building and awareness raising may continue to be practiced pursuant to ensuring long-term sustainability of outer space activities.
Part 8: Guidelines D.1 and D.2 (Promote and Support Research and Investigate new measures to limit Space Debris Population)
Listed examples of implementation: India, Canada, France, European Space Agency, Japan
- Generally, spacefaring countries are supporting relevant research and technology towards space sustainability
- Some countries have made “Space Safety and Sustainability” an important agenda for research and development.