eSpace has been selected as the organization taking over and putting in place the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR), a system that will evaluate the grade of sustainability of a space mission, which has been developed in the last two years by a consortium of organizations including WEF, ESA and MIT. The objective of the SSR is to push forward sustainability in the space sector and reward operators whose missions comply with the sustainability norms and guidelines.
Because of its immensity and its mysteriousness, we are used to considering space as an infinite resource. We could not be more wrong. Years and years of space exploration have led thousands of satellites to be sent in space, mainly in orbits around Earth, such as low Earth orbit (LEO) and geostationary orbit (GEO), which in result are now crowded with satellites’ debris, also referred to as “space junk”.
" Imagine driving down a road which has more broken cars, bikes and vans lining the street than functioning vehicles. This is the scene our satellites face in Earth orbit. In fact, since the start of the space age there has been more debris, “space junk”, in orbit than operational satellites. " (ESA, ESA - ESA's Space Environment Report 2021)
Every new piece of space junk that we send in orbit is potentially bringing us closer to the Kessler syndrome, a theoretical scenario in which the density of debris in LEO is such that a collision between objects would create a domino effect: cause a cascade of collision which produce a high quantity of debris finally resulting in the LEO orbits being unusable for many generations.
It is for this reason that now we need to be smart in the way we deal with old debris, maintain the safety of the current working satellites, and produce and monitor future satellites.
The Space Sustainability Rating (SSR) is an attempt to improve the current situation. By voluntary action, satellite operators can obtain the certification of “sustainability” of their mission according to the SSR guidelines. In this context, sustainability consists of ensuring the use of the space environment for the years to come as well as avoiding losses and disruptions of working space satellites and activities.
The UN Guidelines have been used to define the criteria to assess the sustainability of a mission, taking into account decisions about design, operations and post mission disposal to reduce the risk of collisions and increase space situational awareness.
The rating system has been designed as a composite indicator consisting of six modules:
- Mission index = it quantifies the level of harmful physical interference given by the mission design and concept of operations, including the post mission disposal operations.
- Standards and regulations = it quantifies the adoption of international standards when applicable.
- Detectability, identification and tracking = it quantifies how the physical structure and design of the spacecraft, as well as its mission operations, aid the operators to detect, identify and track the object.
- Data sharing = it quantifies the amount of relevant information an operator shares and how these help in space flight safety.
- Collision avoidance process = it quantifies the capabilities of avoiding collision, with debris and with active spacecraft, as well as the possibility to control the spacecraft.
- External services = it quantifies the potential to improve space sustainability.
Spacecraft operators, launch service providers, and satellite manufacturers will be able to secure a “certified”, “silver”, “gold”, or “platinum” rating that they can share externally to show their mission’s level of sustainability. This will increase transparency – without disclosing any mission-sensitive or proprietary information. The goal is to incentivize good behaviour by all of the space actors in addressing the problem of space debris.
The Role of eSpace
The consortium composed by World Economic Forum, European Space Agency, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin, and Bryce, Space and Technology, have developed the rating in the past two years (2019-2021). After careful selection, eSpace has been designated as the entity bringing the project to life by easing the user interface and by campaigning to spread the word about the SSR and its importance.
Being deeply invested in sustainability issues and with strong technical knowledge, eSpace corresponds exactly to the profile needed to concretize the rating.