SATEXPO Summit speakers discuss space debris at CABSAT

With more than 900,000 pieces of debris in space but only 20,000 catalogued, experts looked at how space junk would impact the industry.

Industry experts from the satellite sector looked at some of the ongoing issues surrounding space sustainability and the threat of space debris on the opening day of CABSAT 2022, the Middle East and Africa’s most competitive event for the satellite, broadcast, and filmed content industries. CABSAT 2022 will take place until May 19 from 11am to 5pm at the Sheikh Rashid Halls 5-8 at Dubai World Trade Centre.

Running in tandem with the CABSAT Content Congress, the SatExpo Summit 2022 saw guest speakers from around the world discuss the challenges posed by space debris. With more than 900,000 pieces of debris in space but only 20,000 catalogued, the issue of orbital congestion and sustainable, responsible space management has become one of the hottest topics within the satellite industry.

Alessandro Cacioni, director of Flight Dynamics, Inmarsat, noted that a collision with a piece of debris measuring just 1mm can cause power failure. As a result, better tracking and firmer regulation – rather than recommendation without obligation – is essential, he pointed out.

“When I talk about space debris to non-space people, they visualise the movie WALL-E and think there is going to be a huge circle of trash encircling our planet – that’s not the case, fortunately,” said Victoria Samson, Washington office director at the Secure World Foundation. “What it is going to do is make certain orbits too costly or risky so we will lose the benefit of those orbits.”

The impact of losing such orbits can be found in the human reliance on satellites. Whether it is the internet, television, or mobile phones, in the words of Laith Hamad, VP, Government and Regulatory Engagement & Board Member, OneWeb NEOM Joint Venture: “Satellites are embedded in our life.”

While Cacioni – charged with keeping the Inmarsat fleet secure – revealed that half of all the debris in space has been caused by just three collisions and none involved active satellites, Hamad urged government licensing. “Just now satellites must be deorbited within 25 years – that is a long time,” he said, adding Inmarsat’s fleet is all designed to deorbit themselves and use materials that disintegrate on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. “There is huge room for cooperation, but there must be regulations, not recommendations that are not binding.”