Experts Warn That Space Is The Next Environment At Risk Of Serious Damage

Space is the next environment that has to be protected against the impact of human development, a panel of top experts has warned at the UK Government’s GREAT festival of Innovation in Hong Kong.

The group of academics said that international investment and regulation needs to happen urgently or space risks being as damaged as our oceans are by human development. Development on the Moon and other planets is a 'virtual certainty' as new resources are sought from outside the Earth – and the panel called for these developments to be properly regulated. 

The panel included Dr Suzie Imber and Professor Paul Monks from the University of Leicester, and Professor Sir Martin Sweeting and Professor Yang Gao from the University of Surrey. 

Speaking as part of the Government's drive to highlight the UK's expertise in innovation across a range of different sectors, the experts said that as space becomes more affordable and accessible to a range of different sectors, we will see small, agile satellites launched in constellations that will herald the onset of real-time video from space. This will help developments such as monitoring widespread forest fires, snow conditions on mountains and even traffic at a macro-level. 

The panel said it will also herald the onset of regular space tourism, space mining and colonisation of the Moon within the next 25 years, and all of the various developments have to be protected properly.

The UK Space Act came into force last week, which will see the development of launch facilities from the UK. The next step is to develop in orbit space ports which open up the possibility of exploitation of the Moon and planets across the solar system. 

Dr Suzie Imber, who is part of a ground-breaking mission to Mercury later this year, and who won BBC Two's 'Astronauts: Do you have what it takes?' last year, said: “There is definitely a role for commercial space flight, and it's a virtual certainty that we will develop permanent centres of habitation on other planets in the future. We have to develop suitable measures to protect the space environment now, so that the great innovation taking place in the field both in the UK and around the world is carried out responsibly.” 

Professor Paul Monks, who chaired the panel, said: "The Antarctic Treaty says that you have to remove everything you take into that area once you leave – therefore we need to consider how we get together to create similar guidelines or laws to protect space. 

Working for the benefit of mankind as a whole, and we have to follow that model as we move into a very exciting and potentially challenging time for the space sector." 

The University of Leicester has a 50-year plus involvement in space research and is the driving force behind Space Park Leicester - an ambitious initiative to develop a global hub and collaborative community based on space and space-enabled technologies. Based in Leicester, adjacent to the National Space Centre, the Park is part of the Leicestershire Enterprise Zone and was formally launched in March 2017 as part of the Government's Midlands Engine strategy with an allocation of £12.87 million. 

The Space Park is a collaboration between the University of Leicester, the City of Leicester and the Leicester and Leicestershire Economic Partnership (LLEP). When fully open, the Park will combine University research and teaching facilities with a range of research institutions and international commercial partners. Alongside the development of a new generation of cutting-edge satellite technology, the site will be home to detailed analysis of space-enabled data that can transform sectors such as international communications, resource management, environmental monitoring and disaster relief.