Minoo Rathnsabapathy and Emanuelle David co-wrote an op-ed, "A new way to incentivize safer conditions for operating in space," for Space News. The article says, in part:
"The rising number of satellites launched in recent years, driven by the emergence of new actors and commercial satellite constellations in low-Earth orbit, has amplified concerns about preserving the long-term use of the space environment. Each year, the space industry sees record numbers of satellite launches, while not enough satellites are removed from already congested orbits at the end of their lives.
While space traffic is increasing exponentially, sustainability regulations and guidelines have mostly remained unchanged since the early 2000s. The importance of space sustainability for the long-term equitable and accessible use of space has been internationally agreed upon for decades. However, in this rapidly evolving tech sector, a shift is needed in how actors pursue sustainability and the ways in which sustainability practices are measured.
The concept of carbon footprint is widely recognized as a critical environmental sustainability indicator to quantify the environmental performance of products, companies or countries. The lack of such an indicator in the space industry has propelled the work of an international and transdisciplinary consortium to design, develop and administer the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR). The SSR was first proposed by the World Economic Forum and supported in its design by the Space Enabled Research Group at MIT, the European Space Agency, the University of Texas at Austin, and BryceTech. In 2021, the EPFL Space Center, or eSpace, was selected to host and operate the SSR. The rating system is inspired by the successful adoption of rating systems in other industries, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification in the green building and construction industry. Designed as a composite indicator, the SSR offers a global definition of sustainable design and practices in all stages of a mission’s lifecycle, from design to in-orbit operations and disposal.
In their own interests, operators have already been pursuing sustainable measures, reflected in recent demonstrations of commercially viable active debris removal (ADR) services, increased investments in on-orbit servicing, and missions that include fully demisable design and disposal within five years. National agencies are also taking on their share of sustainability measures. France took the first step in 2008 through the French Space Operation Act, which includes space debris mitigation guidelines and imposes hard design constraints on launches from French Guyana with the obligation for spacecraft to deorbit after launch. As emerging spacefaring nations develop their regulatory frameworks, they are looking at ways to integrate sustainability measures to meet their national obligations under the UN Space Treaties. Despite these efforts, the definition of sustainable behavior in space is not uniform among actors, and it is difficult to quantify, measure and verify these guidelines. The SSR aims at bridging the gap, giving a clear framework to operators on how to measure the sustainability of their missions. The key to the design of the SSR is that it takes a series of metrics based on models previously published by agencies and academic institutes that serve to quantify and measure sustainability decisions taken by operators without disclosing proprietary information about the mission."