Experts in satellite technology and ocean plastic pollution are calling for a legally binding agreement to protect Earth's orbit from irreparable damage caused by the worldwide space industry.
A collaboration with the University of Plymouth has encouraged politicians to draw lessons from the High Seas' management and protect Earth's orbit.
Scientists have called for a legally binding agreement to ensure that Earth's orbit will not be irreparably harmed by the global space industry's future expansion.
Experts believe that society must transfer the lessons from one corner of the planet to another in the week that nearly 200 nations agreed to a treaty to protect the High Seas after a 20-year process.
The number of satellites in orbit is projected to increase from 9,000 today to more than 60,000 by 2030, with estimates implying that there are already more than 100 trillion old satellites circling the globe.
While this technology is used to gain a wide spectrum of social and environmental benefits, there are concerns that the industry's expansion might make large sections of Earth's orbit unusable.
This highlights the urgency for a global consensus on how best to manage Earth's orbit, according to a scientific collaboration of experts from across the globe.
They acknowledge that a number of industries and countries are beginning to pay attention to satellite sustainability, but they argue that it should be extended to any country that intends to use Earth's orbit.
As negotiations for the Global Plastics Treaty begin, any agreement should include measures to hold manufacturers and users accountable for satellites and debris from the time they launch onwards. Commercial costs should also be taken into account when looking at ways to increase accountability.
Experts believe that unless action is taken immediately, large parts of our planet's immediate surroundings could be at danger for the same reasons as the High Seas, where inadequate governance has resulted in overfishing, habitat destruction, deep-sea mining exploration, and plastic pollution.
Imogen Napper, a University of Plymouth research fellow, has submitted a photo. Eleanor Burfitt/University of Plymouth
Researchers from the University of Plymouth, the Arribada Initiative, the University of Texas at Austin, California Institute of Technology, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the ZSL (Zoological Society of London) co-authored the paper.
They include an academic who conducted the first-ever investigation into marine microplastics, which was also published in Science almost 20 years ago, as well as scientists who signed a global plastics treaty with 170 world leaders at the United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2022.
The recently published paper was co-financed by the National Geographical Society. "We can avoid making the same mistakes and collaborate on preventing a catastrophe of the commons in space."
Heather Koldewey, ZSL's Senior Marine Technical Advisor, stated, "To solve planetary problems, we need to bring together scientists from across the disciplines to identify and accelerate solutions." Through this collaborative research, I discovered that there are many similarities between tackling environmental issues in the ocean and improving management and policy.
"Ancient TEK (traditional ecological knowledge) teaches us how we must embrace stewardship because our lives depend on it. I'm excited to collaborate with others to demonstrate that marine debris and space debris are both an anthropogenic danger that can be avoided."
'Mirroring the new UN ocean initiative, minimizing the pollution of the lower Earth orbit will allow continued space exploration, satellite continuity, and the development of life-changing space technology,' said Dr. Kimberley Miner, a scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Melissa Quinn, the Head of Spaceport Cornwall, said: "Satellites are crucial to our people, economies, and the environment. However, using space to benefit people and the planet is at danger." We can be proactive before we harm the use of space for future generations by comparing our methods.
Professor Richard Thompson OBE, the Head of the University of Plymouth's International Marine Litter Research Unit, has said: "I have spent most of my career researching the impacts of plastic pollution on the marine environment, and the possibilities for solutions. Had we known this, the quantity of plastic in our oceans would have been half what it was today."