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New Orbital Debris Mitigation Guidelines Released By World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released The Space Industry Debris Mitigation Recommendations, new set of guidelines aimed at reducing its creation.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Wed Jun 14 2023Written by Zac Aubert

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released The Space Industry Debris Mitigation Recommendations, new set of guidelines aimed at reducing its creation. The new guidelines have already garnered support from several major satellite operators, although some notable players have not yet endorsed the document.

The guidelines put forth by the WEF outline a series of recommendations to prevent collisions that can result in the generation of space debris. One of the key suggestions is to establish a success rate of 95% to 99% for the "post-mission disposal" of satellites, ensuring their removal from orbit within five years after completing their missions.

This target is a significant improvement over the current international guidelines, which allow for disposal timelines of up to 25 years. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has already adopted a rule reducing the disposal timeframe to five years for licensed or market-accessed satellites. However, compliance with the 25-year guideline has been subpar, with some metrics showing compliance below 50%.

Nikolai Khlystov, the lead for the WEF's Future of Space initiative, emphasized the organization's intention to push for more concrete and specific targets in the guidelines. The aim is to build upon previous work by the WEF, including the development of the Space Sustainability Rating that assesses satellite systems' adherence to best practices for safe and sustainable space operations.

In addition to the disposal timeframe, the guidelines propose that satellites operating above 375 kilometers should be maneuverable, preferably equipped with onboard propulsion. Satellite operators are also encouraged to respond to reasonable space traffic coordination requests from other operators and share orbital data.

The document calls on governments to adopt the new guidelines for post-mission disposal and make the use of active debris removal systems mandatory for space objects that cannot comply with these guidelines, once practical and commercially affordable systems become available. It further recommends increased investments in space situational awareness capabilities and encourages the sharing of data on the orbits of space objects.

While the guidelines primarily target satellite operators, stakeholders outside the industry are also an important audience. The document can be presented to policymakers, investors, and other stakeholders to showcase the industry's commitment to sustainable practices.

At the time of release, 27 companies have endorsed the document, including major satellite constellation operators like OneWeb, Planet, and Spire, as well as a mix of established and emerging space companies. However, notable absences include SpaceX, which operates the largest satellite constellation with Starlink, and Amazon with its Project Kuiper constellation. Even companies that have previously emphasized the importance of space sustainability, such as Viasat, have not signed on.

The WEF made extensive efforts to engage with as many satellite operators as possible, and while not all actors signed on, their non-participation does not necessarily indicate opposition to the standards. The WEF had fruitful discussions with many operators who were not among the 27 signatories, indicating their active engagement with the topic.

The release of these guidelines marks a crucial step in mitigating the creation of orbital debris and promoting responsible space operations.