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Green Toolkit for a New Space Economy

The UK Space Agency has awarded a research grant to an innovative sustainability project within the Faculty of Arts, Cultures & Education, coordinated by its business support programme, the Space Research and Innovation Network for Technology (SPRINT).

University of Hull post-doctoral researcher, Dr Matthias Wong, of the Treatied Spaces Research Group is co-lead on a research project that explores the design of a toolkit for the UK space sector to gauge the impact of their activities on the environment and human society.

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Dr Wong, who has worked on the project since April 2022, said: “The toolkit promotes a circular economy model and incorporates socio-cultural values into traditional environmental impact assessments. We envisage it will be used by UK space small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to help them navigate the regulatory landscape and to assist them in making sustainable choices to reduce their adverse impact on people and the environment.

“National and commercial activity in space has increased exponentially over the past decade, and the sector’s impact on Earth has risen in tandem. The manufacture, launch and operation of a satellite incur environmental and social costs, including the use of rare earths in batteries, the dumping of spacecraft and rocket parts into the ocean, and the utilisation of ground infrastructure like launch sites that were built under the auspices of colonialism.

“My contribution for the toolkit is aimed at widening the space sector’s understanding of sustainability to include the cultural and social dimensions. For example, light pollution from satellites affects not just astronomers, but also Indigenous communities that use the night sky as a source of inspiration and stories. This project is part of the Treatied Spaces Research Group’s wider remit to foreground Indigenous and environmental concerns in research, policy and industry.”

The investment is the result of a National Space Strategy collaboration event that brought together researchers and companies to discuss specific topics and problems. The event champions intensive forums where free thinking is encouraged to explore the highlighted challenges and to work together to uncover innovative solutions.

The toolkit project brings together academic collaborators in History, Indigenous Studies, Law, Physics, Cybersecurity and User Design from the Universities of Hull, Edinburgh, Southampton, and York St John.

In partnership with UK space SME Interstellar Space Technologies Ltd, the toolkit will promote environmental and social equity in a format familiar and legible to business and regulatory audiences, while also providing a tool to help SMEs become more competitive by accrediting their socially responsible choices.

Via a unified platform that integrates a range of complex standards across agencies, industries and civil society, it will encourage the adoption of a circular economy model in the design and operation of space activities, specifically the reuse and repurposing of end-of-life assets.

Treatied Spaces is an interdisciplinary research group based within the Faculty of Arts, Cultures & Education at the University of Hull. It brings together businesses, educators, Indigenous groups, museums, creative artists, NGOs and policymakers to make treaties and environmental concerns central to education, policy and public understanding. Find out more about Treatied Spaces Research Group and its work on Space here.

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