IAA Small Sat - Banner

ESO and Astronomy Groups Petition the UN COPUOS

Credit: ESO

Ibadan, 2 March 2023. – An international collaboration involving ESO has submitted a paper to the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) proposing a new Expert Group to protect dark and quiet skies. The paper underwent discussion at the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STSC) of COPUOS under a special agenda item on Dark and Quiet skies.

The paper, which Chile, Spain, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Dominican Republic, Peru, and South Africa has endorsed, in addition to ESO, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO), calls for a new Expert Group reporting to STSC that monitors the impact of satellites on astronomy, seeks inputs from global stakeholders and makes recommendations for mitigations.

Andrew Williams, ESO’s External Relations Officer and representative of ESO at COPUOS, posited, “If we get to a stage where there are 100 000 or more satellites, irrespective of whatever mitigations the companies can do, they will have substantial impacts on astronomy. There’s also a danger of impacting our ability to discover potentially dangerous asteroids, as well as damaging the pristine sky that has been a constant of humanity.”

Some companies have tried to mitigate these effects by using less-reflective material in satellite construction or changing the orientation of satellites in space. Furthermore, companies can provide astronomers with higher accuracy information about the location of satellites so that observatories can consider this to decide when and where to point their telescopes.

While these potential solutions show promise, they require a coordinated effort between the satellite industry, governments, and astronomers. A cooperative approach involving all stakeholders is an effective way to balance the need for the evolution of the low-Earth orbit space economy and the need to protect the science of astronomy and the pristine visibility of the night sky.

Check Also

#SpaceWatchGL Opinion: Creating a Commercial Space-Based Solar Power Industry

The idea of space-based solar power has been around since the 1960s, but recently gained new momentum. While we already use solar power today on Earth, there are a few drawbacks to putting solar panels on our rooftops or fields. The most important is the intermittent nature of Earth-based solar power, as its power generation fluctuates during the day - and goes down to zero at night. In addition, to compensate for this intermittency and the low load factor (appx. 11 % yearly average), large areas of land have to be covered with solar power to produce enough energy, and storage or backup capacities are needed for the nights and winter months.