Insight – Review of 2020 and a Preview of 2021

Thursday, December 17, 2020

By Executive Director Peter Martinez

Last December, in this column, we published a preview of our planned activities in 2020 across our various program areas. As 2020 draws to a close, it is instructive to review how the year has played out, and what we plan to do in 2021. 

The year started off well, with a number of in-person events around the world, but by March it was clear that we would have to adapt to the social distancing measures required to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with our partners around the world, already planned in-person events were postponed or transitioned to virtual platforms. All told, since initiating telework for all staff in March, SWF has organized or co-hosted 41 virtual events on a range of topics across all of its mission areas. These dialogues and events covered topics such as space security, responsible space operations, space resources governance and other emerging space governance issues, and human and environmental security. Our capstone event during the second half of 2020 was the 2nd SWF Summit for Space Sustainability, which was held on September 9-11 and was attended by 540 participants from 42 countries. SWF also co-organized or participated in several invitation-only multilateral dialogues on responsible behavior in space. In 2020, SWF also continued to work with the UN on building capacity in space policy and law in emerging space countries with the Space Law for New Space Actors Legal Advisory Project. SWF also continued to promote and support the development of standards for commercial on-orbit proximity operations through our role in managing the industry-led Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS).

In addition to our many events and dialogues, SWF developed targeted resources to enhance the understanding of space sustainability among policymakers and other actors in the space community. Of particular note is the issue brief on space policy and sustainability for the incoming Biden-Harris administration as it begins setting its policy agenda for the next four years to build on space policy efforts of previous administrations. This brief contains recommendations on issues ranging from fostering a vibrant commercial space sector to dealing with threats from counterspace capabilities. 

In a nod to the global nature of our work, we offered a Spanish translation of our Handbook for New Actors in Space and Spanish and French translations of the executive summary of our annual counterspace threat assessment. And in an effort to increase accessibility of our online events, when possible, we have started making closed captioning available. 

We also continued implementation of practical projects aimed at enhancing the transparency of space activities, such as the development of an online dashboard to promote transparency of orbital data on space activities, which we are developing with our partners at the University of Texas at Austin (UT/Austin), and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). 

 The year ended on a high note, with SWF being awarded the 2020 Space Stewardship Award by Space News at a special virtual awards ceremony on December 14. This award is “given to the person, program or organization that made a significant contribution to preserving and protecting the orbital commons.”

Looking forward, what are SWF’s plans for 2021? 

In 2021, the space community will continue to experience the multifaceted challenges to the sustainability of space activities that have been growing for a number of years, as well as confronting more novel challenges that may arise from new kinds of space activities. In our efforts to promote the sustainable and peaceful uses of outer space, Secure World Foundation will continue to engage with other actors in the United States and internationally on issues affecting the safety, stability, security, and sustainability of outer space activities. What follows are snapshots of some of the priority areas SWF will work on in the next twelve months.

SWF will continue to raise the salience of space sustainability issues among public and private sector space actors and national, international, and multilateral decision makers, and support efforts to use structured cooperation to advance such issues. We will work with our partners all around the world to promote dialogue and advance cooperative solutions for space sustainability and the progressive development of the legal framework for space activities. These include dialogues on issues such as space situational awareness, space resources governance and other emerging governance challenges, engagement with the space weather community, and promoting wider implementation of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) Guidelines for the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities. As the emerging commercial space economy becomes increasingly international, there is a need to examine the context through which the investor community can work with industry to encourage and implement best practices and standards for responsible space operations. On the domestic U.S. policy front, we will continue engagement with the incoming Biden administration as it develops its policy intentions, building on the accomplishments of previous administrations and the latest US National Space Policy issued by the Trump administration on December 9, 2020. 

In the domain of space security, SWF will continue to work closely with UNIDIR to plan the annual UNIDIR Space Security Conference, a two-day event that focuses on various aspects of space security, and we will continue work other partners to increase the salience of space security and stability issues to G-77 countries and bring them into the conversation about determining what responsible behavior in space looks like.  

In 2021, SWF will again organize the AMOS Dialogue on space situational awareness at the annual AMOS conference in order to promote data sharing and collaboration as a measure that is foundational to any future scheme of space traffic management or coordination. We will also continue work with CSIS and UT/Austin to develop a web-based tool that will collect and make open source data on space activities in LEO and GEO available in a format accessible to the public, media and policy-makers. The intention is to provide more transparency about space activities and better enable analysts to distinguish between normal and abnormal or potentially hostile behavior. 

In addition to the above dialogues and program activities, SWF will continue to develop resources to enhance the understanding of topical space governance and space security issues. Among these, in 2021, we expect to add French and Chinese translations of our popular Handbook for New Actors in Space, which is currently available in English and Spanish. 

Given the current worldwide situation of COVID-19, it is likely that most of the engagements during the first half of 2021 will continue to be virtual, with a gradual transition to hybrid and then in-person events later in the year. We are planning to hold the third SWF Summit for Space Sustainability as a virtual event in June 2021. Further details will be announced in January.

SWF thanks its partners for a productive 2020 and looks forward to continuing to contribute to conversations, virtually and in-person, in 2021 leading to the sustainable, safe, and peaceful long-term use of outer space.

Last updated on December 17, 2020