Insight - Hosting SWF’s 2nd Summit for Space Sustainability

Friday, September 4, 2020

By Director of Space Applications Programs and Summit Chair Krystal Azelton and Summit Intern Renata K. Kommel

Space sustainability - the ability of all humanity to continue to use outer space for peaceful purposes and socioeconomic benefit over the long term - is a policy focus of the United States and the international space community. Though it is widely accepted as an important goal to strive for, definitive action to address specific challenges has not occurred at the level needed to ensure space sustainability. As the world witnesses a rapid expansion in both the quantity and variety of activities in space, the need for action is becoming increasingly urgent. 

In 2018, Secure World Foundation (SWF) identified the need for a high-level conference specifically focused on space sustainability in all its various aspects. At that time, experts were still talking about roughly 1,800 operational satellites in Earth orbit. Today, that number is closer to 3,000, and if all current plans come to fruition, it could reach tens of thousands in the next decade. On-orbit crowding, radio-frequency interference, and the proliferation of offensive counterspace capabilities are just some of the challenges currently threatening the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. If society wants to preserve the ability to use space over the long-term, the space community and other stakeholders must work now to adapt behavior to a new environment that is more congested and contested than ever before. 

SWF is committed to a sustainable future in space, an objective that depends on complex interactions between multiple types of actors. Future improvements in space sustainability will involve government, academia, and industry and will likely result from a combination of actions. These include technical solutions; improved information sharing and communication; and the development of more effective regulation, appropriate norms of behavior, and industry-led best practice initiatives. To enable significant progress, SWF seeks to bring together different groups of stakeholders to discuss existing and future challenges, make commitments, and develop common solutions. Consistent with that goal, in June 2019, the inaugural Summit for Space Sustainability hosted a cross-disciplinary mix of more than 200 international participants from across the space and non-space communities. The topics examined included space debris and space situational awareness, space law and policy, space governance, national and international space security, commercial space, and the use of space for human and environmental security on Earth. Across all of those topics, speakers and participants offered ideas on the event theme of how to create norms of responsible behavior that can enhance space sustainability.

Next week, on September 9-11 2020, SWF will be hosting the 2nd Summit for Space Sustainability with the theme of “What Comes Next for Space Sustainability?”. Building on the success of the inaugural Summit, SWF is seeking to continue a wide-ranging and insightful conversation about the progress being made and the challenges that remain. With your involvement, the Summit for Space Sustainability is continuing to grow as the primary gathering of global stakeholders committed to concrete action towards a sustainable space environment. Given the current global health situation, the event will be held live but be entirely virtual. The agenda and other details are available on the Summit website.

In the days leading to the Summit, SWF is programming four Spotlight Talks featuring different perspectives on space sustainability from experts around the world. You’ll hear from:

  • Einar Bjorgo, Director of the Division for Satellite Analysis and Applied Research, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)
  • Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, Senior Vice President for Government Strategy and Policy, Inmarsat
  • Li Shouping, Director-General, Space Law Center of China National Space Administration
  • And more to come.

These videos will be shared on the Summit website and SWF Twitter account to set the tone for the event and lay the foundation for the various aspects of space sustainability to be discussed. Further, we’ll be releasing extra content from our sponsors leading up to and at the Summit. We’ll also be announcing the winners of our student essay competition and sharing the selected essays on the first day of the Summit. 

Registration for the 2nd Summit for Space Sustainability is still open, and is free for government, students, and media. The proceeds from the small registration fee go to support our young professional activities. We look forward to seeing you there!

Last updated on September 4, 2020