Is there space to be sustainable?

There is currently a great drive around the world to develop environmental practices and sustainability in multiple sectors, and the space sector is no exception. There is a real appetite in Scotland to develop space sustainability and maintain the safety and health of the space environment. 

 David GourlayPartner

There is currently a great drive around the world to develop environmental practices and sustainability in multiple sectors. The space sector is no exception to this, and there is a real appetite in Scotland to develop space sustainability and maintain the safety and health of the space environment. Current initiatives seek to use the environment of space to meet the current needs of society and help preserve the environment for future generations.

Scotland's race to rocket

While space may not immediately spring to mind as one of Scotland’s key sectors, Scotland is currently the largest manufacturer of small satellites in Europe and promotes a versatile and agile space sector. Scotland’s plan to grow its space industry includes creating over 20,000 jobs and securing £4 billion of the global space market before 2030.  This strategy also sees Scotland set out to produce greener rocket propellants and use satellites to restore local peatlands, track typhoons and natural disasters.  The development of these capabilities is designed to enable Scottish companies to lead the way with Scotland’s sustainable roadmap ultimately aimed at progressing the development of green technologies and reducing space debris.  The Scottish space sector is seeking to take “great strides” to develop and implement its space sustainability plan.

Scotland’s roadmap will be facilitated by research, predominately led by world class academics from leading Scottish universities. The roadmap will highlight priority actions which are necessary to achieve its Net Zero ambitions and promote environmental and societal benefits that can come from UK launched satellites.

As a result of its prime location in the globe, Scotland provides proximity to polar and sun-synchronous orbit.  As such, it is hoped that this year Orbex Space, a private orbital launch services company with its headquarters in Moray, will undertake the first vertical rocket launch from the UK from the Sutherland space hub, located near Scotland’s northern coast.

Scotland is set to host the Space Suppliers Summit in Glasgow between the 4th and 5th October 2022. This is a premier international business convention that focuses on upstream companies and entities working in space manufacturing and exploration.  Glasgow is a key hub in the Scottish space industry, being considered to be at the forefront of a European revolution in space systems, payload manufacture, launch and downstream activity.

United Kingdom driving space sustainability

In addition, UK wide there are a number of economic, legal and environmental issues that must be evaluated to determine how space can be used to meet current and future global challenges.  And as such, a strategic focus on sustainability will help tap into an investment trend that favours businesses with strong Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) credentials.  Only in doing this will the UK, including Scotland, be able to drive forward the development of a sustainable space sector.

The UK has its sights on meeting the emerging demands in its bid to become a global space power. As such part of the UK’s regulatory push includes a space sustainability growth platform. This entails a global effort to produce a global solution.  In achieving sustainability, orbital debris is a large issue and so it is stressed that a global solution is required to achieve sustainability. Overall, it appears that with Scotland and the wider UK’s efforts and commitment there is space to be sustainable.

Legal considerations

Creating a regulatory framework governing the expansion into space may be viewed in a negative light. However, such high profile and high-risk innovative activities such as the expansion and sustainability of space, could not progress without world leading regulation.

In relation to the sustainability of space, legal certainty and regulation is particularly important, and engendering a responsible approach will help create a sustainable environment. The legal requirements for those in the space industry will call on several disciplines including renewables, energy, construction, intellectual property and commercial contracts. We can say with certainty that a wide range of disciplines will be called upon in driving space sustainability.

If you have any queries in relation to the space sector, please contact a member of the MacRoberts Space team.

This article was co-written by Maya AllenTrainee Solicitor.