The development of new and innovative space technologies and the opportunities offered by the fast-growing space economy have led to an exponential rise in space traffic. In the coming years, thousands of payloads are expected to be launched, driven by the emergence of new actors and commercial satellite constellations, in already congested orbits, stressing the need to keep the space environment sustainable and safe.
A paradigm shift is needed in how space actors pursue sustainability and the ways in which sustainability practices are assessed. To facilitate this shift, the World Economic Forum's Global Future Council (GFC) on Space appointed a group of experts from the European Space Agency, the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT), BryceTech and the University of Texas at Austin to develop a rating system for incentivising safer behaviour in space, which became the SSR. In 2021, eSpace - EPFL Space Center was selected to drive the implementation of the SSR and the vision of its Ambassadors.
The SSR provides a simple and impactful instrument for space actors to measure sustainability design and actions comprehensively, capturing the different mission’s elements and using a series of recognised and tested metrics.
“As of today, there is no shared definition of what sustainable behaviour in space means globally, and quantifying, assessing, and verifying international guidelines for space sustainability remains challenging,” says Dr. Minoo Rathnasabapathy, Research Engineer, Space Enabled Research Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “The SSR can help bridge this gap, by offering an original and hands-on framework for space operators to evaluate the sustainability level of their missions – through integrating metrics modelled by agencies and academic institutes.”
Through the rating process, operators can get a clear picture of where their missions and operations stand in terms of sustainability, identify areas where improvements can be made within a feedback loop, and publicly share the rating’s outcomes demonstrated by a “bronze”, “silver”, “gold”, or “platinum” rating badge – and without disclosing sensitive mission data or proprietary information.
The SSR methodology has been iteratively tested and fine-tuned through a thorough beta-testing phase ensuring its relevance and robustness. Many space operators have participated in the beta testing phase, including Airbus, Astrocast, Axelspace, SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, Planet, Voyager Space Holdings and CHESS.
“As space traffic is set to dramatically increase in the coming years, the SSR can play a key role in supporting collision-risk mitigation efforts by making sustainable and responsible behaviour a norm in outer space,” says Prof. Jean-Paul Kneib, Academic Director of eSpace. “We are proud to see this important initiative taking shape and encouraging space actors to raise the ambition bar for space sustainability.”