TAMPA, Florida. A lack of data and collaboration continues to hold back efforts to ensure a sustainable orbital environment, executives at the satellite operator said on June 13.
We are doing our best to advance the science and awareness so that prudent policy decisions can be made by regulators and other influencers, said John Janka, head of government and regulatory affairs at Viasat, during the 5th Summit for spatial sustainability in New York.
Limited space resources are being consumed at an alarming rate, he warned, and we could go from there, virtually seamlessly, a few years ago, to saturation by the end of this decade.
Janka didn’t name broadband satellite rival Starlink, which has more than 4,000 satellites in its rapidly expanding low-Earth orbit constellation, but said Viasat was supporting the development of payload models to help regulators to determine how many satellites are too many.
After recently completing the acquisition of the British operator Inmarsat, the US Viasat operates 19 satellites in geostationary orbit.
Janka said the improved modeling data would also be important to evaluate the effectiveness of various proposed workarounds and mitigations to address the risk of collisions causing debris, spectrum interference and other orbital congestion issues.
So instead of just accepting blind faith that we should do the following to solve the problem in space, we’re looking for empirical models that allow us to take a proposition, run it through the model, and see if it actually works, he said.
Models for assessing on-orbit collision risks have progressed significantly in recent years, according to Janka, who says experts from around the world are starting to converge on best practices in this area.
However, it called for more input from astronomers to understand the impact of light pollution from satellites on their measurements.
Even less is known about the environmental impact of the record number of satellites burning up in the atmosphere after the end of their operational lives.
To enhance its sustainability credentials, Amber Ledgerwood, senior manager for social and environmental impact at SES, said the operator is working on life cycle assessment methodologies to measure a product’s environmental impacts across all stages of creation and distribution.
Ledgerwood said SES is collecting data to evaluate the impact a satellite launch has on the production and launch segments, as well as the space and ground segments.
I think starting there and starting to collect some data is a starting point, he said, but there could definitely be more collaboration around the metrics we use as an industry to paint a more accurate picture of the sectors’ impact on space and the environment. terrestrial .
While SES, Viasat and a growing number of other space companies have begun voluntarily reporting non-financial environmental, social and governance (ESG) data, there is currently no industry consensus on which standards or metrics they should monitor.
Shareholders are increasingly asking publicly traded SES about its ESG metrics and targets, Ledgerwood added.
In general, it’s a transformative journey, he said, and so they understand when we can give them a plan of action versus a concrete answer, but the expectation is that in the future it will be different and we will need to be able to answer their questions .
SES is based in Luxembourg and is facing more mandatory sustainability disclosures under the European Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) arriving in Europe. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is also working on rules to mandate certain climate-related disclosures for publicly traded companies in the United States.
When it comes to spatial sustainability, Viasats Janka said: Best practices are great but not everyone is going to abide by them, so we need more than soft commitments, we need some stick.
Developing orbital debris cleanup capabilities and improving space traffic management and situational awareness are important, he added, but more needs to be done to ensure a safe orbital environment.
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