On May 29th, CTGA Postdoctoral Research Fellow Nikita Chiu spoke at King's College, London, examining co-operation and peace in space.
At the peak of the Cold War, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project demonstrated successful docking of US and Soviet spacecrafts in orbit. The project illustrates that international co-operation could be possible even under the most testing political environment. Since Apollo-Soyuz, outer space exploration has been an area where the international community has demonstrated a considerable level of co-operation, successfully transcending geographical, national and cultural boundaries. In the age of global governance, international co-operation has never been more important in resolving today’s global challenges. One such challenge is the growing amount of space debris in orbit. If this challenge remains unresolved, it will not only undermine the space infrastructure, but will also hinder areas of sustainable development to which outer space activities contribute, such as satellite imaging for disaster warning and management, or for agricultural purposes.
To avoid Hardin’s scenario of the “tragedy of the commons”, space orbit and radio frequency are essential global commons that necessitate governance through co-operation. Nevertheless, with the imminent introduction of mega satellite constellations by private actors (e.g. OneWeb, SpaceX), and the recent dominance of adversarial narratives in space discussions, it has become exceedingly difficult for the international community to ensure the continuous peaceful and sustainable use of outer space resources. Against the backdrop of mounting commercial competition and inter-State rivalry, can peace in space be sustained or would it be rendered a mere romantic concept? In this talk, Dr. Chiu examined opportunities and challenges in moving forward global space governance, paying particular focus on ensuring space safety and sustainability through the introduction of on-orbit servicing (OOS) operations. She identified aspects of standardization that could facilitate future space activities. When considering the potential future commercialization of refuelling, repairing, and debris removal operations in orbit, standardization practices could be the first step towards enhancing international cooperation, as well as in strengthening the existing regime of peaceful use of outer space.