Wed 05 Oct 2022

Scotland makes space for sustainability

Scotland Makes Space for Sustainability

The Scottish space sector has shown its continued commitment to eco-friendly space activity through the recent publication of ‘’Space Sustainability: A Roadmap for Scotland’’ (the Roadmap). The Roadmap sets out a plan towards a more sustainable Scottish space sector through a series of short, medium and long-term work packages. This is in line with the Scottish Government’s target of becoming Europe’s leading space nation and creating 20,000 jobs in the sector by 2030. With the Roadmap’s focus on environmental compliance, Scottish organisations operating in or adjacent to the space sector should prepare for more rigid sustainability guidelines.

Taking off Towards Sustainability

In order to achieve its aim of a more sustainable space sector in Scotland, the Roadmap presents a series of eleven detailed work packages organised into three areas: Leadership, In-Orbit and Environment & Net Zero.

First, the Leadership element focuses on planning, public commitments to sustainability and the promotion of space sustainability. Next, the In-Orbit element seeks to develop sustainable space operations and actions that encourage responsible spacecraft operations and space debris reduction. Finally, the Environment & Net Zero element concentrates on reducing the negative environmental impact of the space sector.

Each work package is split into short-term and medium-term actions, which aim to achieve the following long-term goals:

  1. To achieve Global Recognition for Scotland as a leader in space sustainability (Leadership);
  2. To achieve Space Debris Neutrality (In-Orbit); and
  3. To achieve Net Zero Emissions for the space sector (Environment & Net Zero).

Short-Term Actions

The Roadmap anticipates completion of the short-term actions by 2025, and many of these actions are already underway as of this year.

The short-term Leadership work package consists of three action points that look to:

  • Develop Action Plans that create an environment showing the Scottish space sector’s global leadership in sustainability through the preparation of action plans, the nomination of organisations who will be responsible for implementing and coordinating these action plans, and securing funding and resources to facilitate the work;
  • Support Space Sustainability Research by making funding available for space sustainability projects within Scotland and funding research into the environmental impacts of space activities; and
  • Adopt Sustainability & Net Zero in Scotland via a representative Scottish organisation, such as Space Scotland, committing to the Paris Peace Forum Net Zero Space Pledge potentially on behalf of interested space companies, and publicly committing to cutting emissions by 2045.

The only In-Orbit short term action is to guide the Scottish space sector to

  • Comply with Existing Guidelines by raising awareness of space sustainability within the Scottish space sector via workshops, articles and progress events for both mainstream and industry audiences, providing incentives for compliance, and funding Scottish missions to obtain space sustainability ratings.

The two short-term Environment & Net Zero work packages seek to:

  • Coordinate Space-Enabled Sustainability by promoting the benefits of space data to the sector, connecting Scottish companies with space data and supporting companies to develop innovative space data analytics; and
  • Access Environmental Impacts by determining current emissions in the Scottish space sector, supporting life cycle assessments for Scottish satellites, understanding the implications of new space infrastructure, and developing an action plan to cut emissions.

Medium-Term Actions

The Roadmap anticipates completion of the medium-term actions over a ten year period, between 2025 and 2035, beginning as the short-term actions are completed.

The medium-term Leadership work package consists of two action points to:

  • Establish Space Sustainability Leadership by raising awareness of space sustainability initiatives to encourage further sustainability and secure high-skilled talent and prominence for the sector by promoting the need for legislative change to catalyse a more sustainable sector and raising international awareness of space sustainability proposals in Scotland; and
  • Develop Skills and Capabilities within the sector by establishing a ground-based facility for space situational awareness and utilising sustainability advisors to support space companies.

The two In-Orbit medium-term actions look to:

  • Support Responsible Space Operations from Scotland and advocate to ensure that all satellites launched from or manufactured in Scotland are capable of performing collision avoidance manoeuvres in orbit and will re-enter the atmosphere immediately or within 1 year of end-of-mission; and
  • Invest in Greener Space Technologies by supporting eco-design and design for new Scottish CubeSats, phasing out toxic propellants, considering sustainability before allowing launch and supporting development of sustainable CubeSat technology.

The only Environment & Net Zero action is to:

  • Cut Space Sector Emissions by 50% by annually publishing progress against short and long-term targets as well as case studies of actions taken to date.

Legal Considerations

As sustainability takes off in Scotland’s space sector, the Roadmap’s initiatives to cultivate a net zero space sector should be noted by organisations with an interest in the sector.  Whilst the legal landscape will likely evolve over time, the Roadmap’s proposals provide a small step for organisations today, but a giant leap in terms of responsibilities they might have in the future.

If you have any queries in relation to the space sector, please contact a member of our team and we will be delighted to help.

This article was co-written by Ussamah Nasar, Trainee Solicitor.

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