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News article

Green toolkit for space sector sustainability

Published: 26 January 2024

  •   Featured
  •   Research
A satellite above the Earth

Photo credit: NASA

A collaborative project between York St John University, University of Edinburgh, University of Hull and University of Southampton is set to challenge thoughts about sustainability in the space sector.  

The project has won a competitive research grant from the UK Space Agency to research and design an online tool to assist stakeholders in the UK’s Space Sector to easily access guidance on global laws and standards around space sustainability.  
Collaborating with UK space small and medium sized enterprise (SME) Interstellar Space Technologies Ltd, the toolkit is designed to advocate for environmental and social equity in a manner that is both comprehensible and engaging to business and regulatory stakeholders. Furthermore, it aims to enhance the competitiveness of space sector SMEs by offering accreditation for their socially responsible initiatives. 

Dr Yang Lu, associate professor in School of Science, Technology and Health is leading on York St John University’s role in the Green Toolkit for Space.  

The Green Toolkit for Space aims to gauge our impact on the environment and human society, helping operators to navigate the regulatory landscape and to be more environmentally and socially responsible.   

Space sustainability is a global issue that affects communities in the UK and around the world. Sustainability challenges start from the design, choice of materials and components, and transportation stages of satellite production, not just launch and in-orbit activities.  

Dr Yang Lu said: “Sustainable practices for the space industry can often be difficult to access and understand. This can include such things as protecting dark skies near spaceports or light pollution from spacecraft launches and operations. 

"My contribution to the toolkit enriches the space sector's approach to sustainability. By incorporating user-centred design and human-computer interaction, I aim to deepen the understanding of sustainability beyond environmental factors, emphasizing the critical role of user behaviour insights in fostering a legally and culturally sustainable space industry. 
“From speaking with industry, we found that many aspects of sustainability were not commonly considered, particularly the socio-cultural harms that could be easily managed and minimised. 

“The Green Toolkit for Space will be an innovative online platform offering guidance to help SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to realise sustainable manufacturing, procurement and design throughout the entire lifecycle of a space activity”. 

Since receiving the grant, the Green Toolkit for Space team has designed a prototype, focusing on solar panels and batteries, with reference to rare earth minerals and dark sky interference.  
Marking a significant milestone, the team was invited to present the toolkit at the United Nations Space for Climate Action Symposium in Austria in September 2023. This prestigious event served as a key platform for showcasing innovative solutions and fostering international collaborations in space sustainability. Complementing this was the presentation of their initial research at the Sustainable Space: Legal & Regulatory Aspects Summit in Edinburgh in June 2023. The team is now aiming to trial a working demonstration of the toolkit in 2024. A green paper has also been completed by the Project Team with a view to publish soon. 

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