The growing number of satellites in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) has started to catch the attention of both people within the space sector as well as the public at large. With launch vehicles hurling tens of satellites with each launch, the space environment is definitely becoming more and more complex to manage traffic to ensure safety of the assets. There are two directions in which solutions are being created to mitigate the problem. One being adding sensors both on the ground and in space to monitor both active satellites and debris. The other being creating services that enable the removal of debris.
The case for providing an advisory service to ensure safety of functional assets is quite clear. However, the case for Active Debris Removal and who pays for such a service is still quite unclear. The challenges in ADR seem very similar to the challenges in getting policymakers to agree on coming up with targets that they can achieve on climate change. From an environmentalism perspective, there is a clear case to mitigate debris and to maintain an environment that will ensure that space remains accessible for the future generations. However, from a geopolitical techno-strategic perspective, a more complex space environment will benefit select advanced space faring nations over the emerging ones.
A more complex environment will need complex maneuvering of active assets, ensuring almost a real-time and perhaps even autonomous operation of active assets to ensure their safety. This implies that any actors in such a complex environment will need to have advanced space and ground-based sensors to predict such maneuvering as well as advanced systems that allow active assets to take such decisions almost autonomously. Therefore, a complex LEO space environment will make it even harder for emerging space nations to operate their own assets without adopting such technologies that are primarily only available in advanced space faring nations as of today.
The influence geopolitical techno-strategists in advanced space faring nations influence space environmentalists in decision-making is set to drive the progress in ADR in this decade. Will policymakers mainly be influenced by strategic thinkers to tolerate the worsening space environment since it provides a much stronger hold to them on the theater with most emerging actors depending in some form or the other via either commercial or bi-lateral agreements from solutions arising from their own quarters?