NASA to Develop a Framework for Space Sustainability

NASA to Develop a Framework for Space Sustainability

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy today released a Space Sustainability Strategy that calls for the agency to develop a framework for space sustainability. What came out today was just the first step — a strategy for Earth orbit. Next will be cislunar space and more to come after that. NASA soon will post a job opening for a Director of Space Sustainability to lead the effort.

Speaking at the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium, Melroy elucidated the challenges of operating in Earth orbit with the number of satellites and amount of space debris constantly growing.

On February 28, NASA’s Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics Mission (TIMED) and Russia’s Cosmos 2221 satellites came less than 10 meters from each other. Neither is maneuverable, so there was no opportunity for their courses to be altered. Melroy said they were as close as she was at the podium and the first row of the audience.

Low Earth orbit, the focus of volume one of NASA’s Space Sustainability Strategy, is the most concentrated area for orbital debris. This computer-generated image showcases objects that are currently being tracked. Credits: NASA ODPO.  April 2024

“Space is busy – and only getting busier. If we want to make sure that critical parts of space are preserved so that our children and grandchildren can continue to use them for the benefit of humanity, the time to act is now. NASA is making sure that we’re aligning our resources to support sustainable activity for us and for all,” Melroy said.

The strategy identifies six goals:

  • Develop a framework for assessing space sustainability at NASA
  • Prioritize the most efficient ways to minimize uncertainties about orbital debris and operations in the space environment
  • Lower barriers to space sustainability through developing and transferring technology
  • Update or develop policies that provide incentives to support space sustainability
  • Continue and improve collaboration outside of NASA
  • Improve NASA’s internal organization to support sustainability

She acknowledged many want to jump directly to the third goal, “a big, fancy, new exciting technology,” but developing the framework needs to come first.

NASA is creating a position of Director of Space Sustainability to coordinate activities within NASA that will be posted soon.

The strategy released today is just the beginning. Next will be a strategy for cislunar space — the area between the Earth and the Moon and around the Moon — the focus of NASA’s Artemis program.

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