Tackling Space Junk: Why We Need a ‘Highway Code’


As governments around the world look to tackle the ever-increasing amount of space debris orbiting Earth, an international coalition of satellite operators and industry representatives have come together to create a “highway code” to be adopted worldwide. The Space Safety Coalition (SSC) is calling for a new set of guidelines to protect existing satellites from space debris, and signatories have committed to adhering to these best practices.

Rajeev Suri, Chief Executive of British satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat, is one of the 27 signatories of the SSC. He said:
“Initiatives like the Space Safety Coalition are an important step towards establishing international best practices and guidelines to protect the space environment, but it is not enough. The clock is ticking, and real action is needed. National regulators everywhere should now use their powers of granting market access to require that satellite operators adhere to best practices like those outlined by the Space Safety Coalition and beyond.”

The number of satellites in low-Earth orbit is expected to rise from about 9,000 today to nearly 60,000 by 2030, making guidelines and regulations even more essential to keep existing satellites safe. To this end, the SSC has established best practices which will aid in avoiding future collisions. These include the international sharing of information between spacecraft owners and operators, avoiding intentional fragmentations or collisions that place other nations’ satellites or crew in danger, and prioritizing sustainable practices during launches, including the use of re-usable launch vehicles and alternative fuels. Similarly, European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that there are over 130 million pieces of space debris ranging between 1mm and 10cm, making maneuvering a necessary precaution to avoid collisions.

In order to demonstrate the importance of this, the UK-based Astroscale, one of the signatories of the SSC, is currently planning the Britain’s first national mission to actively remove space debris. As well as this, back in 2018, the SSC, through Surrey Satellite Technologies’ RemoveDEBRIS mission, tested a giant net to grab a satellite, and the very next year, ESA performed its first satellite manoeuvre to avoid a collision from a mega constellation.

Inmarsat is a global British telecommunications company that offers a range of secure and reliable mobile telecommunications services for customers across a wide range of locations and sectors. Working in more than 100 countries, and with considerable experience in providing secure and reliable mobile satellite communications services, Inmarsat is well placed to assist in the implementation of the SSC guidelines and the development of a new “highway code” to protect satellites from suffering needless damage.

Rajeev Suri is an experienced and successful technology executive with a deep knowledge of the telecommunications industry, including satellite and wireless products, services and networks. In 2016 he joined Inmarsat as Chief Executive and since then he has worked to turn Inmarsat into an innovative provider of global mobile connectivity. His involvement in the SSC and advocating for the adoption of the “highway code” is testament to his dedication to the safety and sustainability of the space environment.