The path to global leadership in space environmentalism
- Publication Date
- Dr Moriba Jah CorrFRSE
Space environmentalism focuses on understanding and mitigating the environmental challenges posed by human activities in outer space. As a space environmentalist, my work in this field primarily revolves around space debris – or ‘space junk’ – and the development of novel statistical strategies to ensure the sustainability and long-term viability of space activities.
Most of what we send into outer space never comes back.
This discipline advances our ability to understand how human objects in space create both services and risks of collisions and reveals how environmental protection on Earth is related to mitigating the challenges of space debris. Most of what we send into outer space never comes back, so mapping the location and trajectory of these potentially harmful objects is critical. And in proposing policies that would create a circular space economy, we aim to prevent pollution in the form of single-use satellites and incentivise companies to reuse satellites rather than abandon them.
As a recently elected Corresponding Fellow of the RSE, Scotland’s National Academy, and a member of GlobalScot, Scotland’s International Business Network, I am increasingly enthralled by Scotland’s capacity to spearhead initiatives that prioritise preserving celestial environments and promoting sustainable practices.
The Scottish space sector is evolving rapidly.
With multiple spaceports, launcher companies, a thriving space data scene and many scientific and commercial users of space – but Scotland has long been at the forefront of scientific advancements and environmental stewardship. By integrating these two pillars, it can position itself as a global leader in space environmentalism and sustainability.
Our international networks, exemplified by institutions such as the RSE, provide a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge exchange. By leveraging these networks, Scotland can assemble global partnerships dedicated to advancing space environmentalism and sustainability. By fostering innovation through collaborative research, Scotland can develop cutting edge technologies that minimise the environmental footprint of space missions.
Global leadership in space environmentalism will require an emphasis on education and public engagement.
By incorporating sustainability and space environmentalism into educational curricula, Scotland can foster a new generation of scientists, engineers and policymakers who are passionate about sustainable space exploration. By involving the public in discussions about the environmental impact of space activities, Scotland can build a collective commitment to responsible practices and garner support for sustainable space exploration endeavours.
The path lies not only in scientific advancements and international networks, but also in drawing upon ancient wisdom and traditional ecological knowledge. Scotland, with its rich cultural heritage and deep connection to nature, can harness the traditional ecological knowledge of Druids as a basis for attuning to the space environment and achieving space sustainability.
Druids, the ancient Celtic priests and scholars of Scotland, possessed a profound understanding of the natural world and its interconnectedness. They lived in harmony with the land, valuing the balance between human activities and the preservation of ecosystems. This wisdom can be applied to space environmentalism, where a similar balance must be struck between human exploration and the protection of celestial environments. The holistic principles of the Druids, emphasising the interconnectedness of all life forms and the importance of respecting natural cycles, can guide the development of spacecraft and space technologies that prioritise environmental preservation and resource efficiency.
Scotland can now seize a leadership role in space environmentalism and sustainability, forging a path towards a responsible and sustainable future beyond our planet. By capitalising on its strengths in scientific research, international networks and ancient wisdom, Scotland can inspire global initiatives that prioritise the preservation of celestial environments and the harmonious coexistence of humanity and nature.
It is beyond words for me to express the honour of being elected to the RSE, as one of only six Corresponding Fellows in 2023. I am extremely excited at the opportunity to contribute to the mission of knowledge made useful and to apply my life’s work in astrodynamics and space environmentalism and sustainability.
Dr Moriba Jah CorrFRSE, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, The University of Texas; Chief Scientist, Privateer. Co-founded with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Privateer is a data and intelligence platform empowering the future of space sustainability. Visit privateer.com.
This article originally appeared in ReSourcE Summer 2023.
The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.