When an astronomer complained about the constellation of satellites as a part of Star-link Elon launched to Space, it hit the internet with questions being raised about the private players in the space. In the next launch, Elon took into account the concerns of astronomers and implemented solutions to preserve the natural night sky. The key players in satellite operations are ready with the technology to do wonders out there in space, from providing internet services to exploring deep space adhering to the rules and regulations of outer space treaty and concerns of the general public. With companies like one web, SpaceX, and many more, the New sector has changed the way we seek space anymore. Shifting the focus from political game to major business game in the investment capital, New Space has set its foot in the current space generation. Every 1 in 100 universities conduct a satellite program in their curriculum, many non-profit organizations provide satellite workshops for the students, and the commercial interest in space is increasing every decade. In the past few years, the commercial activities in space have accelerated the participation of various other Nations in the space race without being strictly adhering to the National Space treaty and hence raising long-term sustainability concerns. When a few of the countries have a well defined regulating body in coordination with the United Nations Committee for Space, about 50% of countries have no such central regulating body. An example of such a country was India, which recently announced a central governing body named In-space to streamline the process of acquiring a licence for satellite operators in the private sector. Until 2020 March, there were many small satellite start-ups with an excellent mission objective but failed to grab enough investors due to complexities in the existent structure of satellite procurement and launch. Most decision-making power currently exists within the National Space agency of a particular Nation and at times there is friction between the emerging private space players and government entities. An establishment of an independent institution, governing and monitoring the activities of both commercial and public research facilities, would be a great solution to benefit the space community as one unit together. The transition from the development stage to the launch stage is very crucial for the satellite operators because of an ambiguity in the procedure of acquiring the license to launch their space entity. Currently, most of the guidelines suggested by COPUOS and FCC accounting mainly for the de-orbiting satellite to avoid debris and frequency reservation, respectively. However, there is a regulatory gap in these organizations that have no defined framework to look at post-launch satellite operations mainly on-orbit activities. In fact, the post-mission suggested guidelines by COPUOUS are merely suggestions rather than a strict abiding law. Future commercial missions will bring more challenges associated with satellite launches in terms of insurance, liability, license, and registration. A more accommodating law with backing from large space organizations would save the satellite operators from juggling between different departments and ensure an easy process for processing their space products, meanwhile utilizing the facilities of the National space agency for development and testing.
There is no question in the fact that many nations like the UK and most European countries have already adopted standard procedures to manage space operations in alignment with the Outer space treaty. However, the remaining 60 or 70% of countries who are a part of the International Space Treaty can establish an independent autonomous regulatory body, operated by the government body with the participation of public space agencies and private stakeholders of the nation in conjunction. The broadband framework of the regulatory body will cover licensing guidelines, monitoring, and compliance of satellite, insurance, safety clearance, liability, and breach of contract. Further, a separate department under the same body comprising an international point of contact will ensure the compatibility with ITU, UNISEC, and other International space bodies. To streamline the process, the comprehensive body further shall be distributed in order to distinguish the processes for different activities in the space domain. For example, a separate set of safety and rules will apply for remote sensing satellites than the disaster management satellites, hence the requirements to acquire a license will differ. This will further lead to less ambiguity for private space companies to transit from the development to the launch phase.
A few years back, when satellites were just introduced into the space domain, the entire focus was on research and development with very few missions planned and therefore there weren’t any stressors affecting the engineers or researchers to think regarding space getting converted into a big junk. But today with One web, Starlink, and other potential players, the requirement for sustainable space systems is very critical. Today various measures are being taken to reduce the debris problem, for example, 25 years de-orbiting rule and ESA departments working on debris removal technologies and servicing satellites to remove already existing debris. However, with the more CubeSat launches probability of in-orbit collision between any satellite and large objects will increase drastically from a current probability of 0.001 as calculated by NASA. In coming years it would be a necessary requirement to manage the space traffic and track almost every space entity to avoid any in-orbit collisions. The regulatory body of every nation would play an important role to monitor their registered space entities and the data could further be used in managing the space traffic. In this way, a regulatory body will accommodate the interest of private players and safeguard the interest of the nation as a signatory body to the outer space treaty. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the past regarding the importance of painting the sustainability in technology development. The growth in the small satellite market will produce more entrepreneurs every year, but along with the market growth a balance has to be maintained to promote sustainable space. Every nation must take responsibility for the common cause and maintain its space-based activities in order to accomplish the idea of sustainable space.