By Heath Hoeffner – April 2024

In late February, Erika Nesvold provided a fantastic presentation on environmental justice in space which serves as a catalyst for critical analysis of key topics shaping the discourse around space exploration. With a PhD in physics, and a background in computational astrophysics research, Dr. Nesvold prompts us to consider the intersection of space exploration with environmental, ethical, and social considerations through a variety of different topics

Dr. Nesvold’s discussion raises important questions about the environmental impact of terrestrial launch sites for space exploration activities. While space launches propel scientific discovery and technological innovation, they also exert environmental pressures on local ecosystems and communities. Analyzing the environmental footprint of launch sites and their potential impacts on air and water quality, wildlife habitats, and indigenous lands highlights the need for responsible and sustainable practices in space access. By prioritizing environmental justice in the planning and operation of launch sites, we can minimize adverse effects and promote equitable distribution of benefits and burdens associated with space exploration.

The proliferation of satellite constellations for communication and remote sensing purposes has raised concerns about their impact on ground-based astronomical observations. Light pollution and radio interference from satellites can compromise the integrity of observational astronomy, hindering scientific research and diminishing our understanding of the universe. Exploring strategies to mitigate these impacts, such as optimizing satellite design and orbital configurations, fosters collaboration between the space and astronomy communities. By balancing the benefits of satellite technologies with the preservation of our scientific heritage, we can ensure the coexistence of space-based infrastructure and astronomical observatories for generations to come.

Space debris poses a growing threat to environmental sustainability in space, endangering operational satellites and spacecraft and exacerbating the risk of cascading collisions. Analyzing the root causes of space debris and exploring innovative solutions for debris mitigation and remediation are essential steps towards preserving the space environment for future generations. International cooperation and coordination are critical in developing effective strategies for debris removal and space traffic management, safeguarding the long-term viability of space activities and infrastructure.

Access to space-based internet services has the potential to bridge the digital divide and promote digital equity on Earth. By providing high-speed internet connectivity to underserved and remote communities, space-based internet constellations can empower individuals and enhance economic opportunities worldwide. Analyzing the socioeconomic impacts of space-based internet access and addressing barriers to adoption, such as affordability and accessibility, are essential for ensuring that the benefits of space technology are shared equitably among all populations.

The ethical implications of resource use in space extend beyond current generations, raising questions about intergenerational justice and stewardship of space resources. Analyzing the long-term sustainability of space exploration activities and their impact on future inhabitants of space prompts us to adopt a forward-thinking approach that balances present needs with the preservation of resources for future generations. By integrating ethical considerations into decision-making processes and promoting responsible resource management, we can uphold principles of equity and sustainability in our exploration of space.

In conclusion, the analysis of key topics in environmental justice in space highlights the interconnectedness of environmental, ethical, and social dimensions of space exploration. In considering the future of space exploration through the lens of environmental justice, we are compelled to ask: How can we ensure that our endeavors beyond Earth’s atmosphere prioritize sustainability, equity, and respect for all forms of life and environments?

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of For All Moonkind’s Institute on Space Law and Ethics.

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