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    From the monopoly of Big Tech to Space Tech – there is an urgent need to regulate the exploitation of space’s limited resources of the low – Earth orbit

    September 2022

    The possibilities space offers are in my opinion almost endless. The navigation systems in our cars and phones; the weather observation satellites analyzing this summer’s heatwave in Europe; the pictures of troop movements from the war in Ukraine; the safety communications on planes and ships; broadband services in hard – to – reach locations – the space economy so far informs and benefits everyone.

    Therefore we should do everything in our power preventing the creation of just another monopoly by just benefiting a few “early birds”.

    Space in my opinion is a shared resource which in my opinion must remain available to all nations and corporates all over the world. No private company, no matter how well – funded or fleet of foot, should be allowed to dominate it for its own benefit, or take risks that contribute to the existing climate crisis.

    Yet that is the threat I believe we now face. Mega – constellations incorporating thousands, and soon tens of thousands, of satellites are crowding into low – Earth orbit, or LEO, and claiming the right to occupy it in a manner that poses a great threat to our safety, competition, innovation and consumer choice. Concern about the over – exploitation of limited space resources by a few operators is already growing rapidly among global space agencies, policy and research and national governments.

    The proliferation of mega – constellations in LEO risks a cascade of collisions, potentially denying access to space for decades or even centuries. Greatly increasing the number of rocket launches will also cause environmental harm, as with the small particles and chemical compounds released into the ozone layer when, every day, dozens of spacecraft disintegrate at the end of their short lives. Plus, the light pollution caused by countless satellites may soon outnumber visible stars, interfering with optical and radio astronomy. Though these harms have not yet been thoroughly examined, the size and total mass of the LEO mega – constellations has in my opinion been increasing at an alarming rate. Just as we measure carbon footprints, we urgently need to determine the environmental footprint of each LEO constellation.

    Fortunately, there is growing international recognition that LEO is a shared nature resource and that the number of satellites that can operate there is limited. This concept of “carrying capacity” can help us assess how to best use the resource to benefit all. Countries with space aspirations will not be able to realize them if they are denied orbital resources to support their spacecraft. This in my opinion is even true of advanced nations unable or currently unwilling to outspend the mega – constellations in the race to capture orbital real state. We must urgently find a way to share these limited natural resources equitably and with regard for the consequences of their use. International treaties have long recognized that nations must have equitable access to the orbits and frequencies around Earth. We need to protect that right before it’s too late.

    Ultimately, the power to rein in anti – competitive behavior is distributed among all countries – it does not reside in a single licensing authority. The worst consequences in my opinion could be avoided if an influential group of nations were able to place reasonable multilateral constraints on the orbital and environmental footprints of the constellations they allow to serve their countries. Some mega – constellations insist that only they can close the digital divide, and only if they decide the rules. But the “move fast and break things” approach to new markets like the internet over the last two decades has shown us the dangerous consequences and has not worked well on Earth over the past couple of decades either – it’s for me hard to see after the experiences we have gained why it should be allowed in space.