Outer space exploration has been an area where the international community has demonstrated a considerable level of co-operation, successfully transcending geographical, national and cultural boundaries. In the age of global governance, international co-operation has never been more important in resolving today’s global challenges. One such challenge is the growing amount of space debris in orbit which, if unresolved, will not only undermine global information and communications technology systems, but will also hinder areas of sustainable development to which outer space activities contribute, such as satellite imaging for disaster warning and management, or for agricultural purposes.
Dr. Nikita Chiu proposes to conceptualize space orbit and radio frequency as essential global commons, whose governance requires international co-operation. She will examine opportunities and challenges in moving forward space orbit governance, paying particular focus on ensuring space safety and sustainability through the introduction of on-orbit servicing (OOS) operations. She will identify aspects of OOS that warrant further collaboration, specifically, the standardization of docking and rendez-vous practices that could facilitate future space activities. When considering the potential future commercialization of refuelling, repairing, and debris removal operations in orbit, standardization practices could be the first step towards enhancing international cooperation, as well as in strengthening the existing regime of peaceful use of outer space. With the Outer Space Treaty recently celebrating its 50th anniversary, it is time to explore international efforts in addressing one of today’s most imminent challenges – ensuring sustainable use of global commons.
Dr. Chiu is Research Fellow in Robotics at the Centre for Technology and Global Affairs at the University of Oxford. She is also a Research Affiliate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at University of Cambridge.