Breakthroughs Leading to Zero Waste Space

One of the theme which came across during our discussion on barriers to sustainability in space and meeting with Brain Trust members was space hazards (space debris, radiation, asteroids, and space weather) are a threat.

By 2040, what breakthrough solutions could lead to Zero Waste Space (orbital environment around Earth is free of debris)?

Hi @manuel.ntumba, @Luca, @kblackwe and @pmetzger - Would love to hear your thoughts on breakthroughs leading to Zero Waste Space.

Hi @akb, @wanyok and @boblf029 - In your views what emerging breakthroughs could lead to Zero Waste Space in the next two decades?

My first reaction to this issue was to think of two guiding principles that are not necessarily in conflict but that are under some circumstances certainly competitive. One principle is “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” the other principle is “what you bring in here you take away with you.” I want to address the latter first.

My reflections on the topic of space have been mostly concerned with peaceful uses of outer space. I have great enthusiasm for the possibility of manufacturing/refining etc. done there. My enthusiasm is tempered somewhat by the realization that we do not necessarily know everything we need to in order to be good stewards of outer space .

On earth, we have polluted many fragile environments because we thoughtlessly dumped unwanted debris, perhaps radioactive waste or highly toxic chemical waste etc. without thinking what the consequences would be. This is true in deep oceans and other remote places, for example. I certainly do not want us to be guilty of destroying or damaging the environment of another world in outer space that supports life…

If our knowledge of our own earth iws inadequate when we damaged so many of our fragile environments, what of the environments of other worlds yet to be discovered? We are already talking about colonies on Mars, exploring other worlds in our solar system, and the possibility of intelligent beings visiting our planet from distant worlds.

We need to resolve the issue of zero waste in space before we start putting stuff in space Ultimately, it is necessary, I think, for a United Nations convention similar to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or treaties on Antarctica to govern debris in space. We have the template of Antarctic treaties I believe to help guide us in this regard. All signatories get to use outer space for research and other approved purposes but not to jeopardize other users making lawful and peaceful uses of outer space. Obviously, for this approach to work we need strong conventions such as the international treaties governing research in Antarctica, to govern human activity in space. And we need effective means for verifying compliance with these international treaties. The treaties we develop must have strong verification and compliance provisions. They cannot be simply dependent on the goodwill of the parties. Our experience with the likes of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and others should have taught us that much.

Focusing on prevention of damaging alien environments is necessary but we cannot lose sight of the immense benefits to be derived from space exploration and peaceful uses of outer space. The two ideas, prevent damage and exploit the many benefits must go hand in hand. It will not be a simple thing to pull off. But we must remember that damage is not always irreversible. Some years ago a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico threatened much of the coastline of the southern United States, especially Louisiana and Texas. But we discovered that microbial life helped save the region from the worst effects of the spill. Quite simply, what we instantly concluded was a calamity of epic proportions turned out to be a bonanza for many species of bacteria that feasted on the petroleum and its constituent compounds. We may possibly learn that the huge amount of carbon we are dumping in the atmosphere can be addressed with a magic bullet and already one posibility has emerged in this regard, a mineral called peridotite that is abundant in mantle of the earth, a thick layer of rock mostly buried deep down in the earth is nost places although close to the surface in some spots such as Oman.

Basically, what I am saying is that zero junk is not necessarily a prevention problem. It can be a cleanup problem also. We have the example of peridotite to inspire us in this regard. Peridotite, if it proves to be a useful as early reports suggest, can be spread about to soak up carbon dioxide responsible for much of the global warming of our planet. We may find that debris already in space can b similarly removed by some magic bullet yet to be uncovred.That will be as helpful as never having placed the polutant or debris in space or alien worlds to begin with.




Hi @Shashi.
A significant development in keeping orbits tidy and less cluttered could arise through the following paradigm shift. Stop deploying many thousands of individual satellites (each in their own orbit), and instead provide managed services on space platforms.

This means the kit required for each deployment is less (as it can benefit from the shared resources on the platform), and the product’s cost is lower. Managed services add devices to the platform, maintain them, upgrade them, and at the end of their life take them away (for recycling). This means the chaos we have today is replaced by fewer orbital paths (less clutter) and a well managed approach.

I proposed it here: Space Future Gallery.


Thanks @akb for sharing these insights. Good points.

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As the answer to the question: By 2040, what breakthrough solutions could lead to Zero Waste Space (orbital environment around Earth free of debris)?

Here are the 12 potential breakthrough solutions by 2040. (In reference to the European Space Agency’s 2020 Annual State of the Space Environment Report and the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space’s (UNCOPUOS) seven (7) Guidelines for the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities published in 2019):

  1. Provide a transparent overview of global space activities;
  2. Estimate the impact of these activities on the space environment;
  3. Post mission disposal of every spacecraft
  4. Avoid intentional destruction and other harmful activities
  5. Quantify the effect of internationally endorsed mitigation measures aimed at improving the sustainability of
  6. Limit the probability of accidental collision in orbit
  7. The minimization of the potential for on-orbit break-ups during operational phases;
  8. Prevention of on-orbit collisions;
  9. Limit the long-term interference of spacecraft and launch vehicle orbital stages with the geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) region after the end of their mission
  10. Minimize the potential for post-mission break-ups resulting from stored energy space flight
  11. The limitation of space debris released during normal operations;
  12. Limit the long-term presence of spacecraft and launch vehicle orbital stages in the low-Earth orbit (LEO) region after the end of their mission

@Shashi @LBakerLyon

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