SpaceX CRS-1 Falcon 9 launches (Photo: Steve Jurvetson)
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We are living through a revolution in the private space industry, with the successful launches of reusable first-stage rockets, 3-D printed rockets, and small rockets that can deliver small payloads to a low-earth orbit for the cost of a single Super Bowl ad. NASA is returning to the Moon after more than half a century and has launched American astronauts from native soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle era.
The potential for the transformational lowering of the costs of accessing space, space tourism, and future commercial space stations is driving a complete rethinking of the engineering and cost cycles of satellites and space exploration.
But with the threat of increased light pollution to potential satellite collisions and “mega-constellations” formed out of the sheer volume of satellites in Earth’s orbit, do the pros outweigh the cons?
The opportunities and challenges of the private space industry revolution raise questions about legality and environmental impact. U.S. and international policy and laws have not caught up to the new "wild west" of the space frontier. Should low-earth orbit fall under environmental protection laws? What happens when multiple nations beyond the U.S, start launching their own satellite mega-constellations?
Expert astronomers and pioneers in the private space industry weigh in on the future in a series of talks and a panel discussion.
Why Protect the Dark and Quiet Sky?
As skies fill with thousands of low-Earth-orbit satellites that reflect sunlight, the effect on observational astronomy is growing—as are impacts to the shared human experience of the night sky. Wide-field facilities such as Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile are particularly vulnerable to growing numbers of bright satellites. University of Washington research scientist Meredith Rawls discusses the threat these satellites pose, arguing that there is a growing need to treat orbital space as a human environment deserving of protection and regulation.
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