Interview with Simonetta Di Pippo, Former Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs

Simonetta Di Pippo is the former Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). She has also previously served as the Director of Human Spaceflight at the European Space Agency and the Director of the Observation of the Universe at the Italian Space Agency.

We often hear the word “sustainability” in the context of environmental protection on Earth. Could you define “space sustainability” for our readers? How is sustainability in outer space different from sustainability on Earth?

We don’t have a codified, unified, and accepted description of what we mean for
“sustainability.” But, I can say the following: The space sector is really evolving, the number of launches per year is doubling every year. Last year, we went close to 2,000 satellites. The year before was 1,260. And the year before, half of it. We see the presence of mega-constellations, which have thousands and thousands of satellites—for example, Starlink from Elon Musk’s approach to connectivity. We have a lot of other constellations coming, like OneWeb, as an an example, plus other constellations from China, etcetera.

The point is that the number of satellites in orbit is increasing, which is good on one side because it means that space is becoming an asset for improving the quality of life on Earth. We all often think about space as something far away from us and from what we do on on Earth, but that’s not true at all. In a lot of things we do during the day, we use satellites, sometimes more than one at the same time—for example, for geolocation, navigation, etcetera, and for precise location. Having said that, it’s clear that there is also an appetite from developing and emerging countries to start becoming part of this process. Together with mega-constellations, the fact that the private sector is becoming more and more important for providing service and applications, that governments are more and more interested in using space for critical…


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