Addressing Ethics in the Space Industry

With growing concerns over the human side of the space industry, ethics are becoming a pivotal part of conversations in the sector. On Episode 30 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast, we spoke to Sita Sonty, the CEO of Space Tango, about her thoughts on the topic. Sita has an impressive career history in space, including leading space industry practices at the Boston Consulting Group and working as the Head of Human Spaceflight Sales at SpaceX. She also led an interesting career in government, with over 17 years of experience as a US diplomat. Combining these two areas has given her a wealth of insights into the legal and ethical implications of space. Read on to hear her thoughts. 

“A lot of the decisions that are made by sovereign governments impact where you can launch a launch vehicle from, how much payload it can carry, the purpose of its payload, whether it is designed to have a civil, commercial or national security purpose, how many of those technological pieces can be made in your nation as opposed to manufactured elsewhere… There are also questions like ‘To what extent is technology transfer either problematic from a sovereignty perspective, or highly beneficial from a bilateral negotiations perspective?’ These are the things that have generally been decided upon by senior government officials. 

At the same time, ethical concerns are not only limited to complex foreign policy and national security decisions. Every government has to make those decisions on an increasingly frequent basis, given the amount of activity that’s happening in space, and the number of countries that are getting involved in the space economy. That being said, those decisions are not only made by those senior policymakers – they’re also increasingly made and shaped by the technologists themselves. There is a natural tension between wanting to continue at the pace of innovation so that we’re launching as quickly as we can and meeting those ethical limits. 

We’re providing frequent opportunities to launch, and we’re bringing down the unit economics so that launch capability is at today’s level of affordability. However, it’s not just being provided by one provider – there’s a multitude of launch providers out there that can enable access to space. Let’s say we achieve that, we’re still in a world where there’s one major launch provider, but there’s a number of other newcomers who are increasingly catching up, but are not quite there yet. As that dynamic grows or evolves over time, let’s say there’s increasing access to various orbital planes, the big ethical question is, ‘How do you reasonably allocate access to orbit?’, because it’s not an infinite resource. 

There’s a great study that’s been done by Professor Richard Lunars at MIT, on how to appropriately calculate orbital access if it’s not an infinite resource. How do you appropriately calculate it using just data? On top of that data, you overlay the filter of ethics and say, ‘Well, in a perfect world, there should be equitable access to orbital slots or orbital bins in various orbits, and the proliferation of LEO is the one that is of greatest concern’.

So from an ethical perspective, who gets to decide, and what is the fair outcome? How do you measure the fairness of that decision-making process, as well as mapping as much actual data as possible? You have to consider whether that data is the economic contribution or the percentage of GDP of a given country to its space programme. Is that the proportion by which they’ll be granted access to an orbital slot or set of slots? There’s the international telecom union that has performed something similar in geosynchronous orbit for the telecom industry, but what about LEO? And what about if we’re going beyond one industry and trying to encourage as much industrial growth in low Earth orbit as possible? Is there a new agency that can provide that function? These are the kinds of things that folks in industry think about constantly because there’s this big laudable goal of democratising space, but that is a lot harder to achieve when you think through not just the economics of it, but also the ethics of it.

So how have the ethics questions evolved during my time in the industry? I’d say in a few ways. There’s the ethics of access to performing what you want to perform in the orbital location where you want to perform it because you can’t perform the same functions everywhere. Access is, in effect, controlled by the launch providers. You could set policy to say, ‘Here’s an international organisation, various countries are going to fund it, it’s going to be similar to ICAO, which governs commercial aviation.’ There’s some precedent for the policy segment to say, ‘We’re going to start up agencies at the national and then the international level and those agencies will resource governance structures and technologies that will enable us to have things like air traffic control in space.’ That is a highly evolving segment which provides access to various orbital locations through various launch providers. 

It’s attracted a lot of attention because at the end of the day, do government agencies have enough resources to keep up with the pace of innovation, and continue to provide that access to orbital locations in a reasonable timeframe? That requires resources, judgement, knowledge, skills and abilities. That’s the phase of evolution that we’re in right now. When it comes down to microgravity research (which is what space will do in the value chain), there are other governing bodies that we partner with, such as the FAA and NASA, for certification of our hardware and facilities. We also partner with the FDA to provide us with what’s called the Current Good Manufacturing Practice licence, so that the artefacts that we bring back down from microgravity can be utilised on humans. Whether it’s for stem cell tissues, organs on chips, or drug compounds, to be able to bring substances back down, you still need to have the approval and certification to put that into a human body. There is a thought-through process and set of ethics around it. 

There have been structures that we at Space Tangle have been able to leverage, historically in a pretty short timeframe, so that we’re keeping up with not only the pace of innovation and trying to move the needle on it, but at the same time making sure that we’re thinking through the most ethical and equitable outcomes. We aim not only to preserve the lives of the humans who are going to be beneficiaries of the payload that we bring down but also to do no harm in the process.”

To hear more from Sita about the human element and governmental impact of the space industry, tune into Episode 30 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast here

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

Mitigating Space Debris

Orbital debris and mitigation are pressing issues in today’s Satellite and NewSpace industry. On Episode 29 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast, we spoke with Andrew Faiola, the Commercial Vice President at Astroscale, who is leading the charge in tackling them. 

Why has it taken so long for the industry to do something about debris and future mitigation? 

The proliferation of spacecraft in orbit has accelerated the realization that something needs to be done. Most people are familiar with the Kessler effect, which identified space debris as an issue a long time ago. But now, things are accelerating very quickly. 

The other part of it is technology, and its ability to deal with the issue is starting to catch up. 10 years ago, when Astroscale was founded, our founder had identified that there was going to be an issue, but there wasn’t then the technology to deal with it in a cost-effective way. Because of this burgeoning space economy and the number of companies that are operating in this space, the pace of technology and innovation is accelerating as well. It’s enabling us to start addressing an issue that wasn’t even able to be addressed just a couple of years ago.

What do you think is the viability of the long-term market for these missions beyond the next decade or so? 

The environment is going to get more and more crowded. What we want to do is both mitigate risk by removing large, dangerous objects and ensure that we’re not creating more small debris. In the long term, there is going to be a view towards technology helping remove the smaller pieces of debris as well. I look at all of these things as stepping stones to the in-orbit space economy that everybody talks about. 

Astroscale today is focusing on removing debris from orbit, but what we’re really good at is rendezvous and proximity operations. 10 or 20 years from now, we’re looking at more and more private industries in space, whether it’s human spaceflight, manufacturing, etc; those vehicles are all going to have to coexist together. They’re going to have to be flying, viewing and being serviced in space. Nobody wants to launch tonnes and tonnes of stuff from the ground because no matter how cheap a starship gets, you still have to start on Earth. Can’t we start to repurpose things that are already in orbit? How do we get to a circular economy in orbit rather than just deorbiting? That has to start somewhere. 

On a national scale, what more needs to be done? And more importantly, by whom? 

It needs to come from a number of places, all at the same time. Public awareness is key to putting pressure on legislators to actually enact laws. The industry can only do so much, it needs to come from both ends. Astroscale and others have done an extremely good job of influencing policy over the past years to the point where it is now recognised that the orbital environment has a pollution problem that needs to be sorted out, preferably before we have another tragedy of the commons. 

But what’s the next step to actual legislation or regulation? Historically, I would have come from the standpoint of ‘more regulation is bad’, right? Let the market sort itself out. But in the time that I’ve been here, I’ve actually realised that having the right regulatory framework in place that places the right incentives for behaviour rather than penalties is actually going to catalyse investment and innovation. We need that foundation in order to make a success of it, because this is a brand new market that we’re trying to develop. 

Without having public awareness and the right regulatory and legislative framework in place, it’s hard to make it work. We’ve seen this before in other areas, whether it’s cod fisheries in the North Atlantic, or the Amazon rainforest, everyone knows that they should behave better or things will go bad, but until the right frameworks are in place that incentivise the right behaviour, people will act in their own self-interest. 

To your point about who is responsible, is it national governments or international governmental organisations, I think everybody has a part to play in this. My background in communications for mobility, in-flight connectivity and maritime has shown me that there are organisations like the IMO that put rules of the road in place that people have to adhere to, but there’s national legislation as well. It is probably going to be a combination of all of those that help us move the industry forward. 

To hear more from Andrew, tune into Episode 29 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast here.

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

The Impact of Thermal Satellite Images

On Episode 27 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast we were joined by Tobias Reinicke, the CTO and Co-Founder at Satellite Vu. Tobias has an extensive background in geography and computing with a career spanning over two decades in the aerospace industry. His main focus has been creating advanced solutions for global mapping. Satellite Vu is on a mission to build high resolution thermal data through the launch of their first satellite, the HOTSAT-1 in June, and the recent release of the first light imageries. Tobias explained the importance of using these images to protect our planet, and how companies can plan for the future using the same technology. Read on for his insights. 

How can organisations use thermal imaging data to change their behaviours?

As a company we can detect heat loss at a very high level. Any industry or activity that is based on heat production, we can infer activity levels of. So you can imagine that companies that run large equipment, factories, refineries, or that sort of infrastructure, would request data for their own sites and connected sites that they may not have easy access to, to assess where they are losing heat. Because we’re a global service, we can give them a holistic view of all their assets and sites, and provide a benchmark for their site, showing if they are running at a certain level of capacity. 

Companies have a mandate according to their emissions and wastage of heat that they need to abide by. We can show you whether your sites are achieving that or not. At the same time, if you’ve made some changes, we can show you what the before and after looks like so that you can validate that your changes have made an effect. As legislation and policies come into place in many countries, we are going to be able to help companies assess the situation and help them make the decision with our datasets. We hope to play a key part in monitoring assets that are coming online, are supposed to be coming offline, or are being retrofitted to be more efficient.

What are some of the benefits of infrared imaging sensors compared to other types of sensors?

There’s a bunch of other sensors, such as optical, where you’d see what the sun reflects, but that precludes you from collecting data at night. Again, you can derive activity by looking at cars or trucks being in place, etc, but you can’t see any actual heat losses or infer anything else. You have synthetic aperture radar, which can look at nighttime as well, which is the closest you can get to thermal on that sort of capability. But again, it doesn’t give you any colour because it’s a radar bounce, so it’s a bit tricky to interpret sometimes. Otherwise you can see actual activity by looking at the hyperspectral multispectral solar solutions, which look at gas emissions. Companies like GHGSat are looking at anything to do with emissions, which our bandwidth does not allow us to do. But on the other side, GHGSat can’t derive heat loss. A combination of sensors are going to create the best picture.

What can we learn from this data from the initial images?

The first image we got from the satellite was at Rome, it was a nighttime image, and you can very clearly see some heat around the place. Looking in the northwest of the image was the Vatican, which showed up as really hot. The reason for this was most probably because it is made up of large slabs of concrete. When we get into this city analysis and city planning, materials like concrete, stone, brick and tarmac retain heat really well, and emit it at night, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s fine in the winter, but not too great in the summer when you’re creating urban heat islands. Otherwise, in Rome, we can see a nice river flowing through and you can see that the water is very cool. You can see the green areas are much cooler. You can infer a lot from this and play with it on the urban planning front. 

How can satellite imaging help mitigate the effects of climate change? 

We will be a monitoring service. We will be able to monitor what’s going on; there’s not much else we can do other than that. But I think that if you don’t know where your biggest heat losses and emissions are, you’re not going to be able to do anything about it. That’s very much what we’re there for – to give it a global, holistic and uniform view of the sites that are emitting the most heat and therefore producing the most waste. Asset owners and policymakers want to know about that, and then when they’ve made the changes they want to know how they’ve actually improved the situation. That’s how satellite imaging will help. 

To learn more about satellite imaging and the work that Satellite Vu are doing in the area, tune into Episode 17 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast here

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

The Future of Aerospacelab

The satellite industry is a rapidly developing space, with new technology and applications emerging at a steady pace. On Episode 25 of The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast we spoke to Benoît Deper, the CEO and founder of Aerospacelab, about how he sees the future of the industry unfolding. Aerospacelab was founded in 2018, with the aim of making geospatial intelligence both actionable and affordable, with its fully vertically integrated approach. Just last month, they launched their second satellite on a falcon nine rocket. Following these advancements, we asked Benoît about what we can expect to see from the company next. 

What’s the most exciting recent development that you’re working on now?

What we’re building is quite interesting. We are trying to find the right balance between custom and standardised satellite buses, and we are iterating on that. What we discovered so far is that fully standardised buses are not what the customer wants, because they want to feel special and have their particular needs and requirements met. But, at the same time, they like the standard price. The real challenge is to find something that looks like a customised product, but has a price tag that is more in line with the standardised product. It is quite exciting to oscillate between the two sides and find a path where we believe we can converge to create something that is exciting for our customers. 

What are you most excited to see Aerospacelab achieve in the next 3-5 years? 

Now it’s a matter of scaling and being profitable. So again, it’s quite interesting to see what our technology will look like after the first couple of years. We have started to see some territory that would allow us to do that. Not everything is going according to plan, because as Napoleon said, ‘the plan is only valid until the first shot is fired’. However, we’re on track to meet our KPIs. Not that far in the future we hope to be profitable. For a NewSpace company that is huge, because it’s a small world where we have many brands, and we talk to each other quite often. Not that many NewSpace companies are actually profitable out there, so we’re excited to reach that goal. 

To hear more from Benoît about the future of the industry, tune into The Satellite & NewSpace Matters Podcast here

We sit down regularly with some of the biggest names in our industry, we dedicate our podcast to the stories of leaders in the technologies industries that bring us closer together. Follow the link here to see some of our latest episodes and don’t forget to subscribe.     

Companies to watch in the Satellite and Space Technology Markets 2021

In the ever-changing and fast-paced market of Satellite and Space Technology, there are many start-ups and businesses making amazing strides on the bleeding edge of the industry. We spoke to our team of Satellite & NewSpace consultants who work closely with the trailblazers in Space to get their list of the most exciting companies to watch in the Satellite and Space Technology Markets – 2021.

We’ve created an Infographic listing all the companies. Please feel free to share on social and download below!

Satellite Manufacturers:

AAC Clyde Space – https://www.aac-clyde.space/ 

SSTL – https://www.sstl.co.uk/ 

Nano Avionics – https://nanoavionics.com/ 

GOMSpace – https://gomspace.com/home.aspx 

Launch and Delivery:

Rocket Lab – https://www.rocketlabusa.com/ 

Relativity Space – https://www.relativityspace.com/ 

SpaceX – https://www.spacex.com/ 

Astra Space – https://astra.com/ 

Skyrora – https://www.skyrora.com/ 

D-Orbit – https://www.dorbit.space/ 

Earth Observation and Remote Sensing:

Capella Space – https://www.capellaspace.com/ 

Spire – https://spire.com/ 

Planet – https://www.planet.com/ 

HawkEye 360 – https://www.he360.com/ 

Satellogic – https://satellogic.com/ 


Hiber – https://hiber.global/ 

Myriota – https://myriota.com/ 

Astrocast – https://www.astrocast.com/ 

Swarm Technologies – https://swarm.space/ 

Lacuna Space – https://lacuna.space/ 

OQ Technology – https://www.oqtec.space/ 

Upstream Communications:

Starlink – https://www.starlink.com/ 

OneWeb – https://www.oneweb.world/ 

ArQit – https://www.arqit.io/ 

Lynk – https://lynk.world/ 

Omnispace – https://omnispace.com/ 

LyteLoop – https://www.lyteloop.com/

Space Infrastructure:

Astroscale – https://astroscale.com/ 

Orbit Fab – https://www.orbitfab.space/ 

Astrobotic – https://www.astrobotic.com/ 

Redwire – https://redwirespace.com/

Downstream Communications:

Mynaric – https://mynaric.com/ 

Xenesis – https://xenesis.io/ 

Infostellar – https://infostellar.net/ 

Leafspace – https://leaf.space/ 

Quadsat – https://www.quadsat.com/