PARIS AIR SHOW: Lockheed is playing guinea pig for a new ‘space sustainability’ rating scheme designed to show how well satellites comply with best operational practices such as debris mitigation.
“It’s a real serious issue with debris,” Rick Ambrose, executive vice president for Lockheed Martin Space told reporters here yesterday. “So, I think there are going to have to be some multinational policies” for “how you conduct yourself in space.”
To that end, Ambrose said he has “volunteered my satellites to be rated” by the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) new coalition working on a ‘seal of approval’ scheme that incentivizes industry to take action to maintain the space environment.
The WEF announced a partnership last month at Satellite 2019 with the European Union, a group of universities led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and select space companies to create a so-called ‘Space Sustainability Rating’ to define how well individual satellites — or a constellation — is following current international guidelines and then recommended best practices to ensure the long-term sustainability of near-Earth orbit. This includes looking at active satellite operations — such as the ability to maneuver to avoid collisions — and end-of-life disposal plans.
The rating system will use publicly available data about satellites and/or information provided by operators. Nikolai Khlystov, who leads the WEF project, told me during Satellite 2019 that he hopes to have a final version of the rating scheme completed within the next two years.
Lockheed Martin will become one of the first companies to submit to the fledgling rating process as WEF attempts to work out the exact parameters, Ambrose said, along with Airbus. He added that he is meeting today with WEF representatives here to work on how to proceed.
Ambrose said that one of the problems with managing space debris is that no one wants to pay the price to clean it up. Meanwhile there is a growing proliferation of satellites, especially in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), that are not equipped to undertake even the most basic debris mitigation measures — primarily small Cubesats that currently fall between the cracks in the US regulatory system. (Traditional satellite owner/operators are required to provide the US government with a debris mitigation plan in order to obtain licenses.)
Ambrose said that rules are needed to require all satellite operators, including those using Cubesats and other tiny satellites, to be able to de-orbit from LEO at the end of their lives in order not to create hazards for other spacecraft. “I think that needs to happen,” he said, “but it’s not something I can set up. Even for the [WEF], we can only recommend. It’s going to have to be government to government, and multiple agreements, to say here’s how as a society we are going to conduct ourselves [in space.]”
“If we want to have a robust economy in Low Earth Orbit … we’ve got to deal with [debris] mitigation,” he added. “Oh, and let’s not practice ASAT [antisatellite] technology in Low Earth Orbit.”
India on March 27 became the fourth nation to test an ASAT weapon against a satellite, using a ground-launched missile. China did the same in 2007. The US and Russia tested other types of ASATs in through the 1980s. The US also destroyed a satellite in LEO using a ship-launched missile defense interceptor in 2008 although Washington insisted at the time the action was not an ASAT test.