The global space industry is at a crossroads, poised for unprecedented growth yet faced with environmental challenges. As launch costs decline and satellite production soars, the need for sustainable practices becomes imperative. Unlike past industrial revolutions, today’s society acknowledges the environmental impact of human activities. The space industry must lead by example, embracing practical solutions for long-term sustainability.

Environmental concerns extend beyond orbit debris.

Space activities generate pollution, contribute to water and air degradation, and encroach on sensitive ecosystems. To address these issues, the space industry can adopt Environmental Life-Cycle Assessments (E-LCA) and transition from a linear to a circular economy. Circular strategies encompass cleaner manufacturing, on-orbit repair technologies, reusable rockets, and eco-friendly fuels, promoting cradle-to-grave operational efficiency.

Why now?

Circular strategies embed environmental considerations into industrial processes, preventing pollution and waste. As older industries modify infrastructure for environmental compliance, the space sector stands on the brink of substantial expansion, necessitating proactive measures.

Time is of the essence.

The U.S. government, a significant buyer in the space sector, can drive change. By supporting international harmonization of E-LCA methodologies and incorporating them into contracts, the government can catalyze a sustainable space industry, fostering transparency and trust.

Implementing life-cycle requirements may pose challenges.

Collaboration between the research community, regulators, and the space industry can bridge knowledge gaps. A phased approach and the establishment of a center of excellence can ensure analytical rigor and objectivity in assessing space environmental impacts.

Addressing “unknown unknowns” is crucial.

Studies funded by the government can explore environmental impacts on the upper atmosphere, where the space industry uniquely injects pollution. Understanding the effects of rocket exhaust plumes and reentry debris on the stratosphere is essential for responsible growth.

The space industry has a chance to rise above the mistakes of the past.

By choosing sustainability, embracing efficient designs, and attracting green investors, it can achieve both a boom and a clean future. However, upfront efforts are required to pave the way for accelerated growth. What steps do you think the space industry should prioritize to ensure a sustainable and thriving future?