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Let’s tackle space pollution before it’s too late

Science appeal of 7 scientists against space pollution

(sustainabilityenvironment.com) – From oceans to space. This week, almost 200 countries have finally signed a treaty on the protection of the high seas, that is, 65% of the oceans that do not fall under any national jurisdiction. A global and binding agreement, which should inspire a similar treaty on space pollution before old satellites in disuse and man-made debris become too many to manage. Seven British and American scientists asked in an appeal published in the journal Science.

The numbers of space pollution

To get an idea of the scale of the problem of spatial pollution, a few numbers are enough. According to data from UNOOSA, the UN Office for the affairs of outer space, from the beginning of human use of space until two years ago, just over 11 thousand satellites were launched. Of these, over 7 thousand are in orbit. But only a little more than half are active, the others are either turned off or blocked by some failure.

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The situation is set to explode. Nearly 6 out of 10 satellites still orbiting the Earth have been launched in the last 6 years. The trend is clear: we are heading toward a boom. Some estimates predict that by the end of the decade, the number of satellites in orbit will rise to 60 thousand.

But the geostationary orbit belt is not populated only by satellites. Most of the objects are debris, scrap, and tiny pieces of metal. How many? At least 100 trillion, it is calculated. From rocket stages to parts of old satellites, to tiny screws and pieces of paint. They all travel at 8 km per second around the planet. And only a tiny part is monitored from the ground.

Take immediate action against space pollution

The danger is that this clump of space junk makes the geostationary orbit unusable or at least very dangerous. The solution to space pollution? Global and multilateral governance for this domain that today still escapes any rule. And it is good to do it quickly. Avoiding the mistakes made with the Treaty on the High Seas, negotiated for 20 years. Two decades during which overfishing, habitat destruction, deep-water mining and plastic pollution continued undisturbed – or, in the case of deep-sea mining, threaten to go to the bottom without any rules.

“The problem of plastic pollution, and many other challenges facing our oceans, is now attracting global attention,” explains Imogen Napper, one of the authors of the paper on Science. “However, collaborative action has been limited and implementation has been slow. Now we are in a similar situation with the accumulation of space debris. Taking into account what we have learned from the high seas, we can avoid making the same mistakes and work collectively to avoid the tragedy of common goods in space. Without a global agreement, we could find ourselves on a similar path”.

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