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On the fourth of October 1957, humanity managed the first successful orbital launch of the Sputnik 1, the very first satellite. This was the start of a new era, the era of space exploration. That was about 63 years ago. In the meantime, humanity ventured on the moon, sent multiple probes to other bodies of the solar system, found new possible habitable exo-planets within our universe, and is planning the colonisation of Mars. Space travel and space exploration have become a major point of interest, not only for governmental agencies but also for commercial use. Privately-owned space businesses realised the applications of space for revenue, which resulted in cheaper costs for launch systems and a faster development regarding space travel. The public and private interest in space will only continue to rise and with it its impact. Therefore, awareness for the most pressing issues needs to spread in order to protect humanity and the system we are a part of.

Political Issues

There are currently five international treaties and five principles on activity in space. These deal with issues that can arise, such as arms control, liability for damage caused by space objects, the exploitation of natural resources in outer space and more. The last of these treaties went into force in 1984, and the last principle was added in 1996. This is long ago, considering the speed of technological advancement and the increased access to and interest in space. When the rules and regulations are not updated, serious problems can arise. An example is the military use of space, which could pose a serious threat in the future. Since military confrontation in outer space has already happened, the outbreak of a “space war” in the future seems inevitable. There is an urgent need to update international rules to be able to govern this.

Economic Issues

Critics agree that the outer space treaties and principles is a good foundation for international space law, however, it does not make a reference to commercial space activities, presumably because this was not foreseen in 1967. This means new regulations need to cover the commercial use of space, as the current rules were set in motion in a time where governments were the only competitors in space exploration. Topics ranging from regulated asteroid or planetary mining, space manufacturing and space tourism need to find their way onto the UN agenda to be discussed and regulated. Otherwise, businesses’ frontiers have the potential to dive deep into an unregulated sector, which could be devastating for future space-related projects. 

Environmental Issues

The economic aspect of space exploration is closely interlinked with the environmental issues that arise. The unsustainable use of planetary and asteroid mining could have huge implications for us. Our population is growing, which means more raw materials are required to maintain the current living standards. To prevent over-exploiting planet Earth even more than we are already doing, mining materials from celestial bodies will quickly become reality. International law is still ambiguous about private companies’ involvement. This makes it unclear whose responsibility it is to care for our solar system. This is also the case for space waste, another environmental implication. At this moment, more than 130 million objects are orbiting planet earth – most of which are defined as space debris. This poses a danger to future exploration missions as most of these objects are too small to be registered. There is a lot of ambiguity about who is responsible for clearing up the mess. We should always protect and restore the integrity of all the ecological systems we encounter. By only protecting our own planet, we possibly harm the environment of others. 

Why Space on the SDG Agenda is the Solution

The need for action is now, otherwise, humanity will face problems in the future that we might not be prepared for. The political, economic, and environmental issues are all interdependent and lead to a common problem that is brought about by a lack of future-oriented thinking. This is very difficult to solve since not everyone recognises the severity of every single issue listed before. However, there are many different parties talking about outer space and the need for its use to be discussed on a higher, intergovernmental level. As of this moment, every party is addressing it individually and there is a clear lack of a common movement. This is what we want to change. The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. With the inclusion of space as an SDG, we want to create this common movement. A sustainable future is impossible without it. We explained why space deserves a place on the global agenda. Now it is time for action.