‘Wild west’ space dump could threaten future space operations

London, UK (22nd February, 2021) – Hiscox, the specialist global insurer, has called for action to tackle the growing problem of manmade space debris and the threat posed to current and future space operations.

According to figures from the European Space Agency[1], there are believed to be 128 million manmade pieces of debris (greater than 1mm to 1cm) orbiting the Earth, with a further 900,000 objects between 1cm to 10cm, and 34,000 objects greater than 10cm. Even the smallest objects can damage satellites and spacecraft, while NASA[2]  reports that the International Space Station has had to manoeuvre away from orbiting debris 26 times in its 20-year lifespan to avoid a possible collision.

Commenting on the growing problem, Pascal Lecointe, Space Line Underwriter at Hiscox says: “Space is like the Wild West. And while that’s partly what makes it attractive to ambitious ‘NewSpace’ entrepreneurs, unless something is done to bring in more regulation, space debris could become such a problem that certain low-Earth orbits might become unusable in the not-too-distant future.

“It’s not just a concern for space operators either. Everyone who uses an internet connection, relies on accurate weather forecasting, or uses a satnav should be concerned in the event of a satellite being knocked out by orbiting debris. Our whole banking system could go down as a result of a space collision.

“From an insurance perspective, the growth in space debris makes launching new satellites and rockets riskier. It could mean that we require space operators to take additional measures such as having propulsion onboard satellites, so they can change height to avoid collisions and de-orbit when they become obsolete.

“Ultimately, the space industry needs to do more to prevent debris being created in the future and undertake further exploration of ways to clean up what’s already there. A failure to do so could make future space launches uninsurable in the private insurance market.”


 [1] https://www.esa.int/Safety_Security/Space_Debris/Space_debris_by_the_numbers

 [2] https://blogs.nasa.gov/spacestation/2020/09/22/station-boosts-orbit-to-avoid-space-debris/

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