Insight - Launch of the Astra Carta Framework

Friday, August 11, 2023

On the 28th of June, 2023, His Majesty King Charles III welcomed leaders of the global space community, astronauts, aerospace executives, scientists, and environmentalists to a Space Sustainability Event at Buckingham Palace, where he launched the Astra Carta, a framework intended to encourage the private sector to embrace the principles of sustainability in space. To mark the launch of the Astra Carta framework, the King unveiled the Astra Carta seal, designed by Sir Jony Ive, as a visual representation of the ambitions of the Astra Carta. 

The Astra Carta is an extension of the concept of the Terra Carta, launched in 2020 at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos by King Charles III, when he was still the Prince of Wales. The Terra Carta aims to build a coordinated global effort to enable the private sector to accelerate the achievement of global climate, biodiversity, and Sustainable Development Goal targets. In the King’s words, “The ‘Terra Carta’ offers the basis of a recovery plan that puts Nature, People and Planet at the heart of global value creation – one that will harness the precious, irreplaceable power of Nature combined with the transformative innovation and resources of the private sector.” The Astra Carta extends this approach to outer space. The Astra Carta is being developed by the Sustainable Markets Initiative, the entity established to oversee the implementation of the Terra Carta.

The Astra Carta aims to serve as a roadmap for the global private sector to align their space-related activities with sustainability goals, approaches, and standards in partnership with governments, international organizations and other stakeholders. It takes a broader view of space sustainability than only ensuring that Earth orbit remains usable for future generations, but also goes into the role that space plays in a sustainable future for our planet.

The launch of the Astra Carta framework brings to reality a vision for space sustainability outlined by King Charles in his previous role as Prince of Wales at the 4th Summit for Space Sustainability, co-hosted by SWF and the UK Space Agency in London in June 2022. In a recorded message to the Summit participants, then-Prince Charles, said:

“I have long felt that protecting space that immediately surrounds our planet is one of those issues few recognize as important, but like so many of our present challenges, that were ignored for too long, if we do not address it quickly, it will come back to haunt us in a big way…

I have always felt that space is rather like the oceans here on Earth. We think them so vast and so alien that we don’t give too much thought to what we do to them. But we have to start seeing the immediate space around our precious planet as part of its environment. Just as on Earth, what we do to it comes with consequences…  We now recognize we have a duty to protect the oceans. We must also accept that we have a duty to protect the wider cosmos….

Having launched my Terra Carta for the planet in 2021, we are now working to create an Astra Carta to offer a similar framework for sustainability in space. …

Just as we are finally coming together to protect the natural world here on Earth, let us now come together to protect the boundless, and potentially bountiful, worlds beyond it.”

The event at Buckingham palace on June 28, almost exactly a year after King Charles made these remarks, marks the launch of the implementation of the King’s Astra Carta vision.

Unpacking the Astra Carta

At its core, the Astra Carta is a collective call to action that seeks to unite the public and private sectors and other stakeholders in a shared commitment to the responsible and sustainable use of outer space. Inspired by the Terra Carta, which charts a path towards a more sustainable future for nature, people and our planet, the Astra Carta framework extends those principles to the realms beyond our world. The Astra Carta emphasizes the notion of ethical stewardship, placing sustainability at the center of all that we do across the space value chain. A ‘summarium’ of the Astra Carta provides a one-page high-level summary of this framework. The ‘zero draft’ of the full text of the Astra Carta has been released for global consultation and feedback

The draft comprises a preamble that sets out the goals and ambitions of the Astra Carta, followed by 12 articles dealing with: (i) different aspects of the rapid evolution of space activities; (ii) the implications for the space environment and how to achieve sustainability in space; and (iii) the idea that as we expand the sphere of human activity into space, we should do it collectively as all of humanity going on one voyage.

The individual articles address, inter alia, measures to enhance the sustainability of space activities, such as adopting universal sustainability standards and metrics to support sustainable space operations, the mitigation of space debris, creating sustainable markets in space, ensuring equitable access to space, and legal frameworks that support the sustainable exploration and use of outer space. Each of the 12 articles includes a list of specific actions that may be adopted by the private sector and other stakeholders to further the objectives of the framework and deliver the required results.

The document places a strong emphasis on space exploration and on responsible stewardship of the space environment and other celestial bodies. In addition, the Astra Carta also touches on areas that are often overlooked in the general space discourse, such as ethics and accountability, cultural sensitivity, and diversity and inclusion.

The Statement of Intent specifies that the Astra Carta “is to be a living document that will be reported upon and updated annually to keep up with global progress, technological evolution and a shifting investment landscape”, although it does not specify how this aspect of the initiative is to be implemented.

Value and power of the Astra Carta

So, what distinguishes the Astra Carta initiative from other space sustainability initiatives launched by several organizations in recent years, and what role can this initiative play in promoting space sustainability?

There are two main distinctions. The first has to do with the prominence of the principal sponsor of this initiative. King Charles is the first Head of State that has taken a strong personal interest in the topic of space sustainability, to the point of becoming a high-level champion for this topic on the world stage. The King has an undeniable convening power, as was evidenced by the wide turnout of over 100 high-level space and non-space leaders from around the world for the launch of Astra Carta in London on June 28. All of these individuals have a common interest in the topic and the Astra Carta provides a framework for collective action.

The second distinction is the very broad nature of the initiative itself. Most other space sustainability initiatives concentrate on one or other dimension of the problem and address a particular group or limited set of stakeholders. In contrast, the Astra Carta has an extremely wide scope, and addresses a correspondingly broad cross-section of stakeholders. In essence, the Astra Carta implicitly recognizes that all of humanity comprises the stakeholder group for space activities, and ultimately for space sustainability.

Therefore, the value of the Astra Carta is not so much to promote specific technical, policy, or regulatory measures to enhance space sustainability, but rather to act as a sort of catalyst that fosters wider awareness and implementation of such measures and ultimately contributes to a change in the way humanity relates to outer space and sees it as part of our broader relationship with nature and our collective responsibility for responsible stewardship of the natural world.

The Astra Carta also emphasizes the idea of minimizing the potential environmental impacts of space activities—on Earth, in space, and on other celestial bodies. This idea of being a responsible steward of nature may be self-evident for many environmentally-conscious people today, but most people would not extend this concern for the environment to the Earth’s orbital environment, or to the surface of the Moon or Mars. The Astra Carta calls upon us to broaden our horizons, quite literally, as to what we consider to be the natural world around us. The strong emphasis on ethics, accountability, and inclusivity, also expands the narrative of sustainability.

Together, these two characteristics give the Astra Carta considerable potential as a way of socializing the notion that, as an orbital economy develops, more people will become part of a broader global space culture, and that people will internalize the notion that we are part of an environment on a much grander scale than just Earth, and that should we respect all of it. This attitudinal change to space is not something that can be achieved top-down by governments through policy, regulation, and government space programs, but rather something that has to develop organically. The Astra Carta helps to broaden the narrative.

The Astra Carta’s entrance into the conversation on the development of space underscores the  growing global awareness of the importance of addressing space sustainability through global cooperation among governments, the commercial sector and civil society. It shares the stage with other “big picture” frameworks, such as the Artemis Accords, which focus on State-to-State cooperation among civil space agencies for space exploration,  and the Washington Compact, which focuses on the role of civil society commercial actors in setting standards for responsible and sustainable space activities. The Astra Carta distinguishes itself through its focus on sustainability and environmental stewardship. Space sustainability is a golden thread running through all three of these frameworks. The overlap between these frameworks should not be a point of contention, but rather an indication of their complementary nature. Proponents of these frameworks should view each other as allies, not competitors, in a shared mission to strengthen their responsibility toward advocating for sustainable space activities.

Furthermore, the Astra Carta’s launch represents more than a new set of guidelines for sustainable space activities. It symbolizes a rapidly-growing awareness and urgency to address sustainability in space. We are witnessing a shift in perspective, where space is seen as a shared heritage that we must protect for humanity’s benefit and use. The Secure World Foundation is encouraged by this growing international consensus and continues to urge all stakeholders to recognize and act upon the message embodied in the Astra Carta. We each play a part in forging a sustainable path for our planet and the broader space ecosystem.

The goals of the Astra Carta will only be achieved if the aspirations contained in the document are translated into actionable measures that could be implemented by space leaders. In order to discuss next steps and to identify low-hanging fruit for implementation of the Astra Carta, the Secure World Foundation and UK Space Agency are establishing a forum of like-minded leaders to begin high-level coordination across the broad range of fronts touched upon in the Astra Carta. If you would like to be involved in these discussions, please register your interest by contacting

Last updated on August 11, 2023