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Space Matters: Sustainability in Orbit Key to Economic Growth

Originally aired on: August 4, 2022

The Wild West regulatory environment in low Earth orbit was ranked as a top threat to space sustainability by a panel of experts convened for Space Symposium 365’s Space Matters webcast.

The experts, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Walker, former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and industry leaders Carissa Christensen, and Patricia Cooper, called for fast movement by lawmakers and international players to set rules for access to orbit before clouds of debris halt a booming commercial space industry in orbits closest to the planet’s surface.

“What I am seeing from industry is more consistent support for, and expectation there will be, more governance,” said Cooper, president and founder of Constellation Advisory, LLC.

Bridenstine, who led NASA from 2018 until 2021, said the stunning pace of launch, with more satellites sent to orbit in the first six months of 2022 than in the first five decades of the Space Age, comes under a regulatory environment that assumed there would be little risk of collisions in space.

“It’s like adding dead timber to a pile of dead timber and saying ‘Look there’s no fire, so we’re safe’,” Bridenstine said.

Through June 30, launch vehicles lifted 958 commercial satellites to orbit along with 28 military payloads and 36 spacecraft for civil government use, according to analysis in The Space Report’s Q2 edition.

In the first six months of 2022, seven nations launched satellites, including 39 launches by the United States and 22 liftoffs from China.

The panel found that while individual nations could regulate orbital debris and space traffic control, an international solution would be far more effective.

Without an international consensus, nations around the world will act in self-interest rather than treating orbit as a global commons, Christensen said.

“To start with there’s a very different perception of the problem,” she said.

Walker, who represented Pennsylvania for 20 years in the House, said there is one growing understanding about low Earth Orbit.

“It’s become a much smaller place in recent years and months,” he said.

In the second season of Space Matters, well-known policy influencers convene for monthly high-level space policy conversations on emerging topics and trends within the global space economy. Learn more at https://www.spacesymposium365.org.

Space Matters is a monthly webcast from Space Symposium 365 that focuses on timely topics for the space industry, which grossed $469 billion worldwide in 2021, a 9% increase from the prior year.

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