New research paper urges legal protection for space

Space urgently needs special legal protection similar to that given to land, sea and atmosphere to protect its fragile environment, according to a new document.

The University of Edinburgh research is linked to a US court case that aims to set a precedent in the growing campaign for space environmentalism.

An influx of space debris into orbital space – about 100 km above the Earth’s surface – caused by the rapid growth of so-called mega-satellite constellations is putting this precious ecosystem at risk, researchers say.

The installation of these huge clusters of hardware, some with up to tens of thousands of satellites delivering broadband to Earth, clutters space and rocket launches also pollute the atmosphere.

Pieces of shattered satellites, moving at tremendous speeds through orbital space, threaten functioning satellites in their path, the newspaper said.

In addition, streaks from satellite flares, which cause light pollution, are increasingly disrupting research. The giant Vera C. Rubin observatory in Chile, which aims to carry out a study of space and time over 10 years, will for example be seriously affected.

The newspaper, published in natural astronomyargues that space is an important environment for all professional astronomers, amateur astronomers and indigenous peoples and that the scientific, economic and cultural benefits of space must be carefully weighed against these adverse environmental impacts.

The researchers urge decision makers to consider the environmental impacts of all aspects of satellite constellations – including their launch, operation and deorbit – and to work collaboratively to create a shared, ethical and sustainable approach to space .

Professor Andy Lawrence, lead author and Full Professor of Astronomy at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, said: “We stand at a turning point in history. We can cheaply launch large numbers of satellites and use them to benefit life on Earth, but it comes at a cost. In addition to damaging stargazing, the space industry could shoot itself in the foot.

Professor Lawrence drew public attention to these issues in his book, lose the sky. The publication led him to write an expert witness statement for a legal case currently before the United States Court of Appeals, which argued that US environmental regulations should apply to space launch licenses.

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