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Projects concerning space are hugely valuable to our species. Two notable physical districts are (a) the various orbits local to earth and (b) areas that are more remotely located in the interplanetary and interstellar regions. However, the legacy of decades of human space observation, exploitation, and exploration has not always been positive. Environments have been impacted and key groups have been inconvenienced and even their safety threatened due to the ventures of some actors. If such activity continues, the damage caused to our societies, our local space, and even our outer space might become irretrievable. This paper calls for actors to work with their fellow earthlings to identify and address the negative consequences of space endeavours prior to their eventuation. By employing notions of long-view sustainability, we may visualise how our projects affect not only the environment, but also us, and the legacy that we leave for our future generations. Keywords Space · Ethics · Astroethics · Sustainability · Exploration Ethics · Astrobioethics 1 Introduction Space Shuttle programme which featured the ﬁrst reusable spacecrafts, and those that are privately funded such as Blue Considerations of astroethical issues are frequently framed Origin’s and SpaceX’s achievements in reusable rocketry. within the context of science-ﬁction or as something to be Yet some endeavours seem to exemplify the frivolousness considered in the deep future. As a species, space feels so big with which we treat the pure expanse in which we are sus- and our projects so comparatively small that it is tempting to pended; for example: when the ﬁrst Tesla vehicle was sent to believe that any impact that our activities have is negligible. ﬂoat past Mars . It may appear that many of the potential Yet, submitting to this notion is dangerous; these impacts are issues related to the artifacts of human space activities might accumulating more rapidly than we might like to believe. arise ‘later’ (if at all), but ‘later’ can feel so physically and There are many examples of negative legacies that can chronologically far away that it is tempting to believe that result when humanity interacts with space. These effects can maybe those problems could be delt with by other people be environmental, such as the massive carbon dioxide emis- in the fullness of time. However, this paper will show that sions generated at each rocket launch , or the debris left some of the dramatic predictions made by science ﬁction are in orbit from discarded equipment. These effects can also be rapidly eventuating, and in ways that are affecting not only societal, one comment being that each time that taxpayer’s our own scientiﬁc endeavours but also the environment with monies are spent gazing up there, there remain many issues which we are entrusted, in the here and now. faced by the humans who pay for them down here . Many In this article, I will note two distinct physical districts to of the environmental issues have not gone unnoticed and frame the astroethical issues which have arisen from various there have been some attempts to address them in the plan- privately and publicly funded space-related pursuits in recent ning and execution of space-related ventures. Well-noted history. I will use these examples to argue that, whilst indi- examples include publicly funded efforts such as NASA’s vidual activities might have manageable consequences, the immense volume of human activity in this arena requires us to prospectively examine and effectively address the practi- B Helen Smith cal and ethical cumulative impact of future space activities in firstname.lastname@example.org the long-term, prior to their commencement. Without doing Centre for Ethics in Medicine, Bristol Medical School, so, we risk creating and storing up enormous problems which University of Bristol, Bristol, UK S Advances in Astronautics Science and Technology will need rapid solutions sooner than some might have antic- 2021, Russia announced that their weapons test to destroy ipated. one of its non-operational satellites had been executed with “razor-sharp precision” . The shot’s accuracy success- fully broke up their Cosmos 1408  but in the process also 2 Near created a debris ﬁeld; the trajectory of which intersected with the path of the manned international space station (ISS) every 90 min. The crews were immediately woken and instructed to The ﬁrst spacial district is that of the various earth orbits. This physical area is scattered with examples of human activities, shelter in their Soyuz and Crew Dragon spacecrafts  until a risk assessment had been made by NASA’s ballistics spe- particularly so in the low earth orbit (LEO) altitudes between 160 and 1000 km , at altitudes of tens or hundreds of cialists . NASA Administrator Bill Nelson’s press release thousands of kilometres, and even at distances millions of was nothing short of scathing: kilometres further out from the surface of the Earth. “I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabiliz- Artiﬁcial satellites are vital assets to modern life, but, ing action. With its long and storied history in human despite their beneﬁts, can also have a tremendous nega- spaceﬂight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endan- tive effect on the scientiﬁc work undertaken on terra ﬁrma. ger not only the American and international partner SpaceX’s Starlink, One Web, and Amazon’s Project Kuiper astronauts on the ISS but also their own cosmonauts. are three notable examples of satellite internet services that Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening are currently planned or under construction in LEO. Satellite [the ISS] as well the Chinese space station and the internet services greatly overcome the issue of internet con- taikonauts on board.”  nectivity in remote areas, but, to perform this task, hundreds of devices needed to be deployed and collectively linked into As the ISS is at an elevation of 400 km , the residents ‘megaconstellations’; sadly, the effect of these deployments of the station may potentially have further interactions with has been far from neutral . this debris cloud until it deorbits. Indeed, the fallout from this Starlink has had complaints about their satellites from the incident will be prolonged as much of the remaining orbiting scientiﬁc community since they were ﬁrst launched in 2019. detritus crosses orbits ranging from 400 to 1000 km and will Astronomers operating from ground-based observatories dis- take a decade or longer to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere . covered that SpaceX had not taken sufﬁcient precautions to LEO space is occupied not only with humans but also with dim their satellites . Even at night, the procession of satel- communications satellite systems such as SPOT  and Hubble Space Telescope . Whilst we can expect them to lites reﬂecting sunlight could be seen with the naked eye, the consequential light pollution affecting sensitive astronomic fail one day in the future, it is favourable for these highly telescopic work . SpaceX’s use of anti-reﬂective paint  useful and expensive instruments to continue to function for on their table-sized satellites  helped reduce its bright- as long as possible with as little risk as possible of being hit ness by half, but this is not enough and more is needed  by rogue debris, thus causing them to break up and become as images continue to be streaked . Disappointingly for debris themselves. astronomers, potentially tens of thousands of these objects It is not just the insertion of megaconstellations or the will be positioned in LEO in the coming years; without detritus from exploded obsolete satellites that is a threat to action, observers may expect to ﬁnd these objects ghosting current space projects. On ﬁrst glance, the night sky looks vast and empty, but we live under an array of thousands and streaking their images indeﬁnitely . This situation was not unforeseeable; before the mega- of fast-moving objects, many of which have been there for decades. One does not need to be an advanced scientist constellation launches, naked-eye observers could spot the reﬂections of older satellites orbiting the globe (more on these or technician to appreciate them; resources such as Heav- later in this section). The additional presence of megaconstel- ens Above  give real-time information about natural lation satellites in their planned multitudes would foreseeably and man-made objects so that we can spot them with the affect the natural sciences that observe the skies. SpaceX and naked eye as they ﬂy over our heads, and LEO Labs’s Earth Amazon are now voluntarily participating with the astronom- Orbit Visualization  shows the incredible global swarm ical community on how to mitigate their effects , and this of human relics. Whilst the mega constellations have been should be absolutely encouraged, yet it still leaves the ques- the target of much recent bad press, the presence of non- tion: why were these potential effects not noted and these deorbited rocket debris has been just as guilty of hampering scientiﬁc works; recently, a discarded Russian rocket photo- conversations not been initiated earlier? As well as interfering with ground-based observatory bombed one observation leading to the erroneous claim of a gamma burst from galaxy GN-z11 . work, satellites can also present risks to each other. As the reader shall see, this next example is apparently directly from Considering this context, planning for the decommission- the Hollywood playbook of the ﬁlm Gravity. In November ing of man-made orbiting objects at the end of their working 123 Advances in Astronautics Science and Technology life is necessary. Wyler  has had OneWeb’s satellites Hubble Space Telescope  are, respectively, ﬁtted with designed to not crash into each other at the point of fail- grappling ﬁxtures and a docking system allowing potential ure, thus reducing the risk of them breaking into smaller future vehicles to capture them. However, this only offers pieces, which then crash into other objects, which then break the potentiality of capture rather than the comprehensively up and destroy other objects ad inﬁnitum thereby making planned removal of these objects. LEO is relatively close to space travel impossible; a phenomenon known as Kessler the earth, so the distance to travel for retrieval is relatively Syndrome [23, 24]. With each new launch, comes more mat- short, yet the voluminous number of OneWebb satellites ter deposited into Earth’s orbits, materials such as satellites appears to indicate a redundancy rather than a retrieval model. and non-reusable booster rockets, and each new item brings Since the Space Shuttle program has now ended, the decom- a higher risk of Kessler Syndrome initiating. As yet, there is missioning of Hubble is contingent on NASA’s Space Launch no craft capable of travelling to retrieve these objects when System being brought into operation , the ﬁrst ﬂight of the time comes to decommission them and no comprehen- which was 16th November 2022 . If retrieval is not pos- sive coordinated anticollision programme for those objects sible, then it is projected that, sometime in the 2030s, Hubble still in operation. Without such a project, the net result could will be electively de-orbited and burnt up in Earth’s atmo- envisionably be that the LEO space will become ever more sphere . However, not all satellites that de-orbit burn up crowded with the installation of new generation satellites, and some large pieces can reach the ground intact risk- and all being yet another potential source of unintentional ing damage on impact. This may be especially problematic shrapnel. if a de-orbit is uncontrolled and the resultant debris reaches The consequences of Kessler Syndrome are far from locations of human habitation, potentially yielding an out- insubstantial. Doboš and Pražák  note that a severe come of unintentional yet signiﬁcant harm to both persons debris-resulting incident may limit humanity’s ability to and property. access outer space. But Adilov et al.  predict that, The challenges of planning and executing the controlled before orbital spaces eventually become physically unusable, decommissioning of space objects are linked not only to LEO increases in debris will result in an increase in spacecraft operations, but also those located further aﬁeld, for example failures rendering orbital spaces economically unproﬁtable to extraplanetary activities such as the James Webb Space for siting new satellites. It is in no small way ironic that Telescope (JWST). The JWST has been ﬁtted with an inter- humanity’s attempts to open up space for exploration and face point allowing future service vehicles to grapple it for exploitation might cumulatively result in the inaccessibility either retrieval or repair . Yet, once again, the provision of space and thus the downfall of our own aims. of interface points on space artifacts appears moot; in the case Whilst not much can currently be done for the discarded of JWST, its positioning nearly a million miles away from the and uncontrolled items which ﬂoat around the globe from his- earth at the second Lagrange Point (L2)  is inaccessible to torical human endeavours, there is scope to consider what can human or robotic crews for the foreseeable future. JWST was be done for those objects which are still in operation and those never intended to be serviced due to the increase in cost and yet to be launched. The question of the effective regulation of mission complexity not offsetting the potential beneﬁts that the use of space has been ﬂoated before, not least so that the servicing the device could bring . The beneﬁt of JWST’s ‘rules of the road’ may be established in these busy spaces location in L2 is that it uses less fuel to stay there  due to where multiple parties wish to competitively operate whilst L2’s orbital ‘sweet spot’ which allows spacecraft to remain travelling around each other . Yet this can only work if in a reliable orbit ; this is beneﬁcial in prolonging the life actors have an understanding and forewarning of other actor’s of the mission but makes for a challenging retrieval exercise. actions. Satellites, such as those deployed by SpaceX, have Whilst there is much human-placed matter ﬂoating around thrusters allowing them to be boosted to higher altitudes  in space, some recovery projects are planned; notably ESA’s to avoid collisions ; but when a satellite’s manoeuvring ClearSpace-1, which aims to remove its ﬁrst object from LEO strategy is unknown then other nearby actors are forced to in 2025 . Yet surely, to be meaningful, a serious plan implement their own collision-avoidance measures . This for retrieval of human artifacts in space, complete with full happened recently where one Starlink satellite’s orbit contin- funding for mission development and execution, ought to be uously changed, and another dropped into an orbit that risked in place prior to any satellite’s deployment? But even if this a collision with China’s space station, Tiangong; both of these were to be made mandatory for every launch, the popularity incidents necessitated Tiangong to manoeuvre in response of extra-terrestrial enterprises may mean that each retrieved . This resulted in China communicating to SpaceX via object will be replaced as fast (if not faster) than it is removed. the United Nations, calling on them to act responsibly due to Despite these initial plans to reduce and remove debris, near misses . some offer the view that space is not a resource that ought When it comes to their decommissioning, some fore- to be kept pristine. Jeff Bezos has declared that all heavy sight has been demonstrated; OneWeb satellites  and the industry should be moved to space  between the Earth 123 Advances in Astronautics Science and Technology and Moon, thus allowing Earth to be rezoned for light indus- where life could evolve, thus avoiding compromising future try and habitation . Such a move has been compared to investigations. These actions favour the protection of (as ‘sacriﬁce zones’ where human development has permitted yet undetected) extra-terrestrial life, yet what of other non- the spoiling of locations so that others may beneﬁt from the biological artifacts of our extra-terrestrial visits which are left chosen industry . behind when they have completed their purpose? Mars’s Per- To avoid any actor from creating an intentional off-earth severance rover exempliﬁes this with its jettisoned parachute sacriﬁce zone, the mitigation of undesirable potential effects and backshell from its 2021 touchdown —the question of each item that is installed in LEO (for example, contain- to be asked here is if humanity wants to leave such debris ment of contamination) needs to be carefully considered prior behind as a legacy for future visitors to contend with? And to its delivery to orbit. That analysis needs to be mandatory if not, how may any retrieval take place? and weigh the views of not only those who would gain from Currently, there is no plan to collect many of our robotic that activity now, but also those who will be subject to any away teams. Some of these have remained where they have beneﬁts or losses of these activities in the future; for example, ceased to function (e.g. Mars robots) and some have been sent through loss of opportunities due to the effects of a congested ﬂying to boldly go into interstellar space (e.g. Viking 1 and LEO, or simply the loss of the unspoilt night sky. 2) transmitting until their transmissions can no longer reach Earth’s orbits are exploited for human uses, and the con- us, or until they fail (e.g., their power runs out); whichever sequences of that exploitation are now becoming apparent to happens soonest. The conceptualisation of these tremendous us. Yet, the further away from the earth we travel, the more distances in such an unimaginably large area makes the con- difﬁcult it is to visualise the impact of the consequences of sequences of sending objects away into a seemingly endless human activities in space, especially so when we may per- void acceptable to many. sonally never see them. With each step further from Earth brings the feeling of immense space which seemingly permits humanity a fair lee- way to leave our mark, however, and wherever we wish. We 3Far can justify this by arguing that when comparatively small artifacts are left behind from missions, their presence is bal- The second spacial district that this paper considers is that anced by the knowledge gained that enriches humanity and ranging from interplanetary to interstellar. informs our future activities. One wonders if our descendants All planets in our solar system have been visited by our will view this similarly, or question if there were foreseeable spacecraft counterparts within living human memory. Some undesirable consequences of our pursuits that we could have of these visitors have deployed robotic expeditionary landing reasonably recognised and countered prior to our actions. parties. Of these, a few, such as that of Spirit and Opportu- Much the same as the ongoing problem with refuse on nity’s visit to Mars , have lasted up to several years, Earth, disposal is not just a matter of throwing something whereas others, such as Venera 7’s landing on Venus, have ‘away’; there is no ‘away’ just the place that it lands . If yielded data transmissions for only a matter of minutes . we send our robots to visit somewhere once, it is not incon- Those devices which have expired off-earth have remained ceivable that we will return; if not within our own generation, there. then in those which follow. Much the same as we have found Our artifacts do occasionally return from space. The with artifacts in LEO, eventually someone (maybe early Mars Hayabusa2 project successfully brieﬂy returned to drop off colonists) will be faced with our abandoned scientiﬁc rem- samples from the asteroid Ryugu before heading off again to nants and will have to decide what to do with them. This could the smaller asteroid 1998 KY26 . Additionally, there are be a source of embarrassment to us as humanity’s historical some proposed plans for samples to be retrieved from Mars agents if the consequences of our abandoning our objects . Yet, other artifacts do not return to us, and their working have caused, say, damaging pollution to the area in which the lives end in a variety of ways. artifact is subsequently found. For this reason, it is reason- Some projects have come to a very deliberate close; for able for fair consideration to be given to our artifacts before example: Cassini’s mission retired with it crashing into Sat- they are deployed to ensure that their effects do not inter- urn to ensure that its body did not inadvertently contaminate fere with our future activities, honour the innately valuable the potentially habitable or prebiotic bodies of Enceladus environment in which they have visited, and ensure that that and Titan . The same fate befell Galileo’s mission to which we wish to appreciate in the future is not spoilt. Jupiter  and also lies ahead for Juno’s decommissioning . Such demises reﬂect the COSPAR Policy on Plan- etary Protection ; this policy guides actors to avoid “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- biological agents from the Earth being landed in locations bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space” . 123 Advances in Astronautics Science and Technology 4 Wherever We Are: How Ought Our valued environment on or near Earth, harms can be read- Exploration Go On? ily appreciated and considered (the aforementioned activities in LEO exemplify this); additionally, potential as-yet-to-be- As a species, we need to decide how we wish our actors discovered lifeforms off-Earth are argued as having intrinsic to behave when engaging in space-related activities. Chon- value  and are therefore protected [43–46]. But when we Torres  explains the appropriateness of calling on the make our mark on environments that are devoid of life and philosophical branch of ethics when calling for the estab- out of our immediate sight (e.g. the leaving of debris  lishment of a code of ethics for astrobiological concerns. It is and remains [39, 40] of robotic interplanetary missions), it logical that humans currently be noted as guardians in the uni- is harder to meaningfully value that impact as negative or verse  as we are, at present, the only known capable moral recognise those actions as harmful, especially when there actors ; but we need to guard not only the extra-terrestrial is apparently no extra-terrestrial life to protect, an abundant lifeforms that we could potentially encounter, but also ought environment to explore and exploit (why worry about a few to also consider more widely the effects that we have on the square meters of an entire planet?), and when our actions environments in which we conduct ourselves. do not directly affect us or anyone we know. Comparatively, A planning revolution that is ethically informed would on Earth, a no-longer functioning robot would be noted as enable humanity to assess for the potential implications of electronic waste and (ideally) decommissioned safely and our practices and processes. This would ensure that our responsibly via, for example, removal and recycling. Society future actions enable our species’ ﬂourishing whilst avoid- would have cause to object were it left indeﬁnitely where it ing harm to the environments in which we wish to explore ceased to function as it would be unsightly and may prove or inhabit and the societies in which we live. To do this, our hazardous as it deteriorates over time. earth-dwelling community needs to make decisions regard- We also might not be aware of the negative impacts of ing how we wish to treat the various environments in which our space-exploring artifacts for many reasons; they could we explore space, and how we will enforce behaviour that be so far away that we cannot observe them, our instruments reﬂects the values that we determine to uphold. might no longer be operational or able to report their condi- Traditional ethical theories are commonly utilised in ethi- tion to us, or—given enough time—we might have simply cal discussion; for example: Graves  employed utilitarian forgotten that they are out there and are no-longer monitoring and deontological approaches to determine that the risks of their status. Not knowing that there has been a problematic using nuclear-powered space probes are sufﬁciently small impact caused by our space-faring artifacts prevents the neg- thus morally defensible to permit their use. However, such ative effects of its deployment being acknowledged, and if approaches usually consider the effects of people’s actions on issues are not acknowledged they cannot be meaningfully other people, living things, or environments where human- addressed. This would inhibit considerations of restitution ity is sufﬁciently proximal to—thus able to connect with for harms done to that environment or for future planning to and appreciate—both the problematic action and its effect. prevent similar undesirable risks eventuating in other loca- Astroethics’ territory may concern matters far away from tions. Earth, meaning that ethical theories used in this ﬁeld addi- Just because we cannot always see the impact of our tionally need to consider causes and effects of actions that actions does not mean that those impacts have not taken place can be dramatically separated in both physical distance and and that they do not matter. In fact, even from tremendous time. distances, the outcomes of our actions do matter, particularly Humans might realise immediate beneﬁts from the knowl- if we wish to explore that location further in the future. edge and discoveries that a mission may deliver, but there is The fact that humans have been so curious as to send the potential for undesirable outcomes from that mission, for their robotic representatives to remote places demonstrates example: pollution originating from a damaged unmanned that that location has some kind of special value to our spacecraft on an uninhabited planet. Additionally, where an species—without uniqueness and the promise of a high observer’s location is very remote relative to the results of reward (e.g., scientiﬁc discovery or resources) for the visit, their actions, they might believe that any negative effects in the cost of going would be unjustiﬁably high. Because of the that far-away place are abstract to the point of irrelevancy. relative remoteness of almost everywhere off-Earth, human- Where one person’s activities impact another person or a ity will never fully know the value of a location until it is explored. Because it cannot be fully known what is there before arrival, one cannot discount the immense value of “The great thing about being the only species that makes a distinction between right and wrong is that we can make up the rules for ourselves what might be found. The value could be high due to its as we go along” (, p.49). irreplaceability; for example, unexpected lifeform discov- This freedom is troublesome though as no-other species’ civilisa- ery. This means that all space exploration is worthy of the tions are available to hold us responsible for our actions; currently only we can hold ourselves to account. assumption that the desired destination possesses immense 123 Advances in Astronautics Science and Technology value, even when that value has not yet been formally deter- limits with which to cover an actor’s liabilities . Yet, the mined. Outer Space Treaty is apparently not a deterrent to all actor’s The reality is that the value of any location might not behaviour that can lead to harmful contamination—e.g. when ever be fully recognised. Despite the immense length of our nations shoot their satellites. entire species’ existence on Earth, we are still surprised daily None of the issues described in this paper have been by new discoveries of natural wonders both on and off our created by a single event with a single actor. Observato- planet; each of which are unique and deserve protection. ries, rockets, and satellites have been permitted one at a Thus, this argument supports the case against the afore- time and we are now witnessing the cumulative effect of mentioned industrial sacriﬁce zones in space exploration. decades of these decisions. To enable issues to be proactively Every space that we are able to reach has intrinsic—if not identiﬁed and addressed prior to activity commencement, immediately recognised—value, so must not be irreparably key interested parties need to be meaningfully afforded the damaged. We must respect that with every literal or ﬁgura- opportunity to have their values heard and considered, thus tive rock turned over there could be a discovery to be made, allowing them to participate in steering the development, and, if devoid of discovery (e.g., a planet that has no deter- exploitation, and/or the preservation of space and space- minable immediate value), then we must respect that others related environments. Without this measure, the actions of a in the future may wish to appreciate and use that space for small number of both private and publicly funded actors will other purposes without having to ﬁrst decontaminate it from stand to greatly inﬂuence how the remainder of the global past exploits. majority are affected by space-related activities in the future. Yet, humanity will continue to explore the stars and, even This paper absolutely does not advocate for the discontin- with the best of intentions, we will leave our mark each time uation of space activities. Yet actors often operate in domains that we do so. To help address this astroethical problem, I possible only to those with the power and resources to do offer the following notes for consideration. so. Conducting these operations is a privilege, and, as such, As this paper has described, the negative impacts of actors need to respect that privilege by ensuring responsible science and innovation are not insigniﬁcant. Responsible and sustainable use of these environments as well as culti- Research and Innovation (RRI) practices address this by ask- vating a shared interest in ensuring they remain open, usable, ing us to involve society in science and innovation so that and unspoilt by meaningfully employing toolkits such as RRI outcomes are aligned with societal values . RRI prac- and complying with agreed international treaties. tices help by aiming for outcomes to be ethically acceptable, Opportunities need to be made where global societies sustainable, and socially desirable  and can be adopted may jointly consider the beneﬁts, burdens, costs, and fairness from the outset of a project; engaging with and including of public and private organisations’ space-bound activities. diverse voices in practice, deliberation, and decision-making Evaluations need to be made of the potential harm that could . This would aid actors to anticipate, address, and miti- take place from pursuing a proposed activity and mitigations gate for potential undesirable consequences which may arise must be considered prior to deployment. I do not propose due to their activities. that such considerations should be as restrictive as to unnec- However, it is not as though space practices have histor- essarily remove autonomy of space activities from actors, but ically been lacking in regulation and guidance. There are activities should be collaboratively planned in a manner that international agreements that have considered the impact is aligned with and representative of global societal values of human activity in space; the foundation of which is the and is considerate of and (insofar as is possible) in agreement Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in with those other actors which are already performing in the the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon same proposed space, and also that of those who may come and Other Celestial Bodies (otherwise known as the Outer to occupy the same space in the future. Space Treaty) . This dictates that “States shall be liable Space-related activities can be persuasively argued as pos- for damage caused by their space objects” and “States shall itive for society. If the artifacts of human activities offered avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.” no beneﬁt, it would be easy to simply condemn them and However, it seems that countries apply such instruments demand their discontinuation; indeed, the scientiﬁc and differently. For example, the USA’s Federal Aviation Admin- practical beneﬁts that they offer humanity are immense. istration’s Ofﬁce of Space Transportation requires actors to Humanity might decide that an item is a piece of history apply for launch and re-entry licences. Issuance of these worth preserving: the Apollo Missions’ landing sites on the licences is conditional upon compliance with the National moon, the ﬁrst rovers on Mars, the Voyagers, maybe even Environmental Policy Act to ensure that launch plans do Elon Musk’s ﬁrst interplanetary Tesla. But the presence—or not harm or pollute natural or historic areas . Similarly, saturation—of these items in areas that we want to use or pre- the UK’s approach to space regulation requires environ- serve may result in the value of their novelty wearing off with mental assessment and stipulates insurance and indemnity 123 Advances in Astronautics Science and Technology the realisation that such artifacts will need resource expendi- end of their working life. Such steps may proactively antic- ture to be either responsibly maintained as museum exhibits ipate and act upon the foreseeable future problem of space or removed as waste. debris accumulation. It could be agreed that such an undertak- It would be wise for all actors and interested parties to con- ing should recognise that innovation does not come without sider how space-related activities in our immediate present an environmental cost, but that costs must not be allowed to may foreseeably affect ourselves, our neighbours, and the be so unrestrained so as to be detrimental. Projects inclusive environments that we appropriate (both on and off Earth), of accommodations for foreseeable impacts must be mean- but there is also value in looking signiﬁcantly further forward ingfully planned for, along with the secured allocation of than the here and now. Long-view sustainable environmen- adequate funding with which the following generations can tal ethics approaches could be adopted. One such example achieve any clean-up task that we have set them. is that of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people; they believe If LEO is a desirable, useful, and ﬁnite resource, there is that “individual humans and human communities must be value in considering coordinated international efforts when responsible for taking actions that positively affect seven attempting to achieve identical goals. There is precedence of generations hence. Thus they must also avoid actions that this in many projects, but the ISS is one of the most well- might negatively affect future generations, as far ahead as known. The ISS is a harmonised international effort that “the seventh generation” [59, p.41]. This approach could be allows multiple common goals to be simultaneously achieved employed to encourage actors to consider the future effects of on a single shared platform. One wonders if the same inter- their space activities and to look beyond their current position national cooperation could be achieved when aiming for the in time. Seven generations may feel unfathomably long to common goal of the removal of space debris and the organ- many actors, how can progress ever be made if we are always isation and use of communications via megaconstellations. thinking of the impact deep into the future? How can any If all countries wish to achieve the same ends, would a col- plans be reasonably modelled when the state of technology laborative project offer greater ﬁnancial and environmental that far ahead cannot be predicted? Yet, this prolonged period efﬁciencies than the duplication of systems in orbit with a cor- might not be unreasonable when considering space activity; responding (and potentially unnecessary) increase of objects much good, or much damage can happen within seven gen- in LEO? erations. A long-view approach to sustainable planning has yielded incredible environmental and societal beneﬁts which we have reaped within our lifetimes; an excellent example is that of naval planning. After the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark 5 Conclusion planted ninety thousand oak trees with which to replenish their navy ships; two hundred years later, in 2007, the Dan- This paper’s discussion has sampled only a tiny number of ish Nature Agency (which succeeded the Royal Forester) the thousands of humanity’s space activities, but the prob- told their Defence Ministry that the trees were ready for use lem presented is clear. Only a few actors affect space and . Whilst modern navies now prefer other materials and no space-related locations at present, and these few predomi- longer use trees for their ﬂeets, Denmark has proﬁted from nantly decide how our shared space resource may be treated. thegrowthofGribskovForest as this is now one of There are no easy solutions. Guidance and regulation can the country’s largest natural areas . To demonstrate the only ever go so far, and ultimately actors choose how they usefulness of long-view sustainability to space-related activ- will play out their projects. To address this, we need to col- ities, the following discussion will lay out how this approach lectively and respectfully recognise our species’ contribution might be usefully applied when planning for the future use to the environments in which we venture before they are irre- of LEO. deemably occupied with remnants of our early explorations In this generation, we recognise that the exploitation of and activities. If we are to advance as a species, we cannot space can address the need for fast, efﬁcient, and reliable avoid adding to the multitude of objects in LEO and beyond; communications between our communities; megaconstella- but we can enquire of, deﬁne, and use societal values to care- tions can provide this to areas of the world where there is fully consider the impact of each additional object from here limited connectivity for services such as calls and internet. on and how each will be decommissioned. By doing this, Societal views can be sought, and values can be derived from we may begin to secure a lasting and healthy relationship that consultation. A possible ﬁnding could be that it is per- to not only utilise, but also preserve humanity’s last great missible to launch megaconstellations to address the problem wilderness for our beneﬁt now and for those who follow us. of connectivity now, but a meaningful commitment must be Acknowledgements Many thanks to Celine Dion —whose song made prior to their launch to achieve the goal of removing “My Heart Will Go On” inﬂuenced not only a signiﬁcant chunk of satellites later in a timely manner when they have reached the popular culture in the late 1990’s but also the title and subheadings of this paper. Many thanks also to Mr Christopher Martin for discussing 123 Advances in Astronautics Science and Technology my ideas with me and encouraging me to write about that which interests 9. McDowell JC (2020) The low earth orbit satellite population and me. impacts of the SpaceX Starlink constellation. 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Advances in Astronautics Science and Technology – Springer Journals
Published: Mar 1, 2023
Keywords: Space; Ethics; Astroethics; Sustainability; Exploration Ethics; Astrobioethics
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