Issue #2(24) 2020 Astronautics

Battle for the night sky - from telescopes to ad-breaks

Starlink satellite trails over Brazil in December 2019.
Starlink satellite trails over Brazil in December 2019.
Christopher J. Newman Northumbria Law School, Northumbria University, UK
Lauren Napier Northumbria University, UK

Today’s space applications represent a wide range of innovative and creative uses of the orbital environment that will, unfortunately, have an unprecedented impact upon the visible night sky. Visual pollution from commercial space typifies the dilemmas faced when trying to regulate contemporary space activity and the challenge is to find a solution that is enduring yet pragmatic in its recognition of the current state of geopolitics. This article addresses some of the issues.

The first two decades of the twenty-first century have seen space applications increase at a bewildering pace and, due to the decreasing price and relative ease of access, the vast majority of this has focused on utilising low Earth orbit (LEO).

However, the revolution in the way we use the orbital environment has not been cost-free and a number of problems are emerging with the manner in which space is governed. Many of the key issues, such as the prevalence of orbital debris and the need for some form of space traffic management, are the subject of much discussion within the space community, but fail to gain traction in the political mainstream. However, there is evidence that this might be about to change.

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