E-SWAN Sustainability Webinar 3

The Space Sustainability Paradox: What is space sustainability and how can it be achieved?

by Dr Andrew Wilson (Glasgow Caledonian University)
Thursday, 19th October 2023, 13:00 CEST


Abstract The recent growth of the space sector, spurred by a surge in private actors, has led to a sharp increase in our ability to address societal challenges through space data. However, this has exacerbated an already critical situation in space: the proliferation of space debris and a critical expansion of space traffic which is leading to high levels of orbital congestion. In parallel, increased levels of spacecraft production and orbital launches are also heightening the environmental footprint of the sector. This might lead to a paradoxical situation whereby the use of space to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) becomes unsustainable from the perspective of both the Earth and space environment. This situation can be described as the ‘space sustainability paradox’. This presentation will explore this concept for the first time, investigating what space sustainability actually means and whether we are on course to achieve it.

Dr Andrew Ross Wilson is a Lecturer within the Department of Civil Engineering and Environmental Management at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). His research mainly relates to life cycle assessment, carbon accounting, cost analysis and energy systems, with a particular focus on the space sector. Although Andrew’s technical background is in environmental management, and his work is extremely interdisciplinary. In this regard, Andrew’s services are often consulted by external parties with regards to the assessment, mitigation and communication of sustainability issues. This can often vary from being very specific and technical-facing, to being broad and societal-facing, and the range of risks, impacts and decision-making processes in-between. Ultimately, his work aims to inform how society can transition towards a future that is truly sustainable, as envisaged through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Andrew’s primary research focus is currently on the integration of life cycle assessment into the concurrent design process of space missions, and space-based solar power. He owns his own company called Metasat UK which was founded in 2020. Due to his contributions to science and technology, Andrew was awarded the 2018 Young Scot Environment Award, was designated one of Junior Chamber International’s Ten Outstanding Young Persons of Scotland, won the ESA-EISC Space for Sustainability Award 2021 and was named GCU Alumni of the Year 2022. As well as his research and consultancy, Andrew teaches on a variety of Undergraduate and Master's courses, supervising various student projects across the School of Computing, Engineering and Build Environment.