Space companies forge alliance to reduce in-orbit debris by 2030

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TAMPA, Fla. — Ten companies and organizations from across the space industry have vowed to devise concrete measures for reducing the amount of in-orbit debris by 2030.

French satellite fleet operator Eutelsat, launch service provider Arianespace and U.S.-based Earth imagery venture Planet are among signatories of the Net Zero Space charter, which was launched Nov. 12 during the Paris Peace Forum in France.

“There are about 4,700 operational satellites currently in orbit, and this number could rise to more than 25,000 by the end of the decade,” Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël said in a statement.

“We must therefore urgently address the question of our responsibility in relation to the increased use of space, so we can safeguard the benefits for humanity over the long haul.”

No firm commitments were made as part of the Net Zero Space alliance’s launch.

However, Eutelsat deputy CEO Michel Azibert, who joined the Paris Peace Forum event, indicated that the company would be coming back to the conference next year with more granularity on space debris matters.

A Eutelsat official said its company-specific Space Debris Mitigation Plan is already “more stringent” than France’s national LOS law, or Loi sur les Opérations spatiales, which aims to ensure proper de-orbit procedures are applied so that satellites do not become debris at the end of their operational lives.

“LOS is generally considered to be at the highest level of constraints put on operators, when comparing with the general framework of the UN long term sustainability guidelines for space activities,” the official said.

According to Eutelsat, it has a success rate above 95% for de-orbiting its own spacecraft.

However, as the number of satellites continues to skyrocket, the company says there is a compelling need for international action to keep a check on the increasingly congested space environment. 

“Taking no action would increase the risk of space asset collisions, undermine the safety and sustainability of space operations and inflate the cost of access to the most useful orbits,” Azibert warned in a statement announcing Eutelsat’s Net Zero Space initiative.

The Eutelsat official added that the company is also working closely with satellite broadband operator OneWeb, as the startup’s second-largest shareholder, on space debris mitigation issues in low Earth orbit (LEO).

OneWeb is engaged in a technology research partnership with debris removal startup Astroscale, which also signed up for the Net Zero Space initiative.

Astroscale is currently demonstrating debris-removal technologies in LEO. It said its commitments to Net Zero Space include developing partnerships with government and commercial stakeholders to develop regulations and incentives to boost space sustainability. 

The other Net Zero Space members so far are Chinese Earth observation operator CGSTL, French space agency CNES, European satellite-tracking group EUSST, Dutch research and teaching institution IIASL and French space situational awareness (SSA) startups Share my Space and Spaceable.