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Leadership & Society

HOW CAN WE STOP SPACE BECOMING A JUNKYARD?

Recycle space hardware.

Space binRedundant hardware now litters the Earth’s orbit. The 160,000 plus items circulating in the heavens include defunct satellites, rocket launchers and debris from the space centre. These objects threaten space travel and satellites, but whose responsibility is it to clean this up? What responsibilities do governments and manufacturers have for items they launch into the atmosphere?

At King’s, we think that space, as one of humankind’s last great frontiers, deserves our attention as a matter of urgency and should not be considered purely from military and commercial perspectives. We want to fund a space policy programme as a catalyst for generating broader interest and debate around these issues, from campus life to the international arena. Building on our connections with space agencies, military and humanitarian organisations and the technology industry, we will influence practice and policy in the field.

There are currently more than 800 satellites in space which are being increasingly used for militaristic gain. During the Iraq war in 2004, 68 percent of munitions were satellite-guided, compared to just 10 per cent in the 1991 Iraq war. Space is regarded by the US and UK military as the fourth official ‘theatre of war’, after land, sea and air (a fifth, cyberspace, was added recently).

Yet space can also provide the opportunity to improve disaster management, meteorological forecasting for climate modelling, satellite navigation, and communications. The vast majority of the world’s natural disasters happen in developing countries, but they are as yet unable to make best use of satellite technology for disaster management due to the costs, lack of institutional infrastructure or political support to make this happen. We know that military satellites could be used to great humanitarian effect, without significant extra investment, but how can we make this happen?

We recognise that existing space policies and regulatory frameworks are not able to meet these kinds of challenges, and there is currently a lack of academic thought around non-military use of space. We are seeking funding for our Space Policy unit to start a debate, and to build support for greater use of our common frontier - for the common good.

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Further reading

How can the world govern cyberspace?
How do you develop a deeper understanding of other cultures?
Why are we studying cyber terrorism so carefully?

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