ESG in Space: Sustainability in the Growing Space Economy

Posted on May 17, 2023 by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist

#Corporate Governance #Corporate Sustainability #ESG #ESG Issues #Public Sector Governance #Risk Management #Uncategorized 

Guest Post by Ian Christensen, Director of Private Sector Programs, Secure World Foundation

Without realizing it you likely use or access services provided from space systems on a daily basis.

Far from being just rocket launches or space exploration missions,  space-based applications, services, and data contribute to many societal services that are woven into the infrastructure of the global economy.

As our reliance on space technology grows, so do the concerns over the responsible use and sustainability of the space environment.

The space sector itself is emerging as a growth segment in private investment – with expectations of a trillion-dollar market within the next 20 years (growing from something around US$400 billion globally today).

Companies like SpaceX, Amazon Kuiper, and Planet are pushing new business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets while a wave of so-called “new-space” start-up companies push into emerging applications in areas as diverse as satellite life-extension, satellite traffic management, and lunar commerce.

All building on a base of space industry output from established companies such as Lockheed Martin, SES, Viasat, and others.

Today the majority of spacecraft in orbit are operated by the private sector – not by governments – as the space domain becomes increasingly characterized by commercial activity. Investors – and public markets – are only just beginning to understand the true nature of the space market.

As with any growth sector, this trend toward privatization calls into the economic sustainability while at the same time raising questions of on-orbit environmental sustainability.

Upcoming Event: On June 13th and 14th 2023, experts, policymakers, and industry leaders will gather at the 5th Summit for Space Sustainability in New York City to highlight the tools and approaches the global space community is using to address the risks to the sustainability of space activities and grow opportunities for all.

A key aspect of space sustainability is the reality that the actions of one actor in the space domain can affect the ability of others to safely operate. Growing a space economy – and returns from it – will be easier if the environment is stable. There are risks to this stability.

 Space is a naturally hazardous environment, from extreme temperatures, to lack of accessibility, to solar weather and radiation.
 Space debris is a growing concern that requires management. According to the European Space Agency, in low Earth orbit there are currently 36,500 space debris objects greater than 10 cm in diameter and 1,000,000 space debris objects between than 1 cm to 10 cm in diameter. All of which can be lethal to operating satellites.
 Increasing launch and satellite constellation deployment activity, providing societal and economic benefit, but introducing concerns about orbital crowding and terrestrial environmental impact , while highlighting the need for improved debris mitigation action.
 Geopolitical issues, including development of counter space capabilities and the conducting of deliberate, destructive antisatellite (ASAT) tests, could have long-term implications on the security of space and impacts on commercial space applications.

There is a need to think and operate intentionally about the impact of space activities for all stakeholders, including on the stability of the space environment; while at same time delivering business results for shareholders, investors, and companies.

Risks to space sustainability are also business risks, with the potential to impact the near and long-term returns from space-sector investments.

These trends have resulted a growing conversation about – and commitments to – space sustainability in the space industry. As a way to manage and communicate these risks, the principles of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) management, are being translated to space activities.

Companies are also beginning to consider how the topic of space sustainability integrates into their ESG priorities, risks, and opportunities:
1) How can the space sector create new business opportunities by contributing data and services to sustainability performance and monitoring on Earth?
2) What metrics, standards, or policies should be developed to ensure responsible management of the space environment and mitigate operational risk for all space actors?
3) How do responsible practices for operating in space support equitable access to, and use the space environment and its resources?

With a thematic focus on the corporate strategy and performance context for space sustainability, the Summit for Space Sustainability, will discuss the applicability of ESG principles to the space sector, both as a motivator for incoming investment and as a corporate management tool to address sustainability challenges in the space domain environment.

Can ESG be a meaningful way tool for addressing value, risk and performance in space sustainability?

ESG alone does not address all that space sustainability encompasses. Even with the increase of commercial and private sector space activities – space remains a government-driven market in terms of funding and in the role of national strategic interests in driving programmatic priorities.

Shifts in government priorities will have impacts on the ways use of the space environment evolves, and on the types of economic opportunity that might be realized.

Governance systems and frameworks – both domestically and internationally – will need to evolve, and will affect competition and cooperation in space development.

Space security trends will impact commercial and governmental operators.

The Summit for Space Sustainability

At the Summit high-level speakers representing industry, government, think tanks, and academia from around the world will give their thoughts on these important issues.

Keynote speakers include Lt. General John E. Shaw from USSPACECOM, United Nations Under Secretary-General Guy Ryder, and Julie Black from the UK Space Agency.

We’ll also be hosting senior international space industry speakers from Canada, UAE, Portugal, India, Luxembourg, and Mexico along with a significant contingent of US government presenters from the Office of Space Commerce, the National Security Council, the White House Office of Science Technology Policy, NASA, and the U.S. State Department.

The event will be held on June 13-14 at Convene on 117 West 46th Street, New York, NY. Registration is open.


The Summit, June 13-14 in New York City –

CNBC:  Space Industry on Way to Reach $1 trillion revenues by 2040 – 

Space News:  Guarding Against Greenwashing in Space –