The space sustainability paradox

Andrew Ross Wilson, Massimiliano Vasile

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
158 Downloads (Pure)


The recent growth of the space sector, spurred by a surge in private actors, has led to a sharp increase in our ability to address societal challenges through space data. However, this has exacerbated an already critical situation in space: the proliferation of space debris and a critical expansion of space traffic which is leading to high levels of orbital congestion. In parallel, increased levels of spacecraft production and orbital launches are also heightening the environmental footprint of the sector. This might lead to a paradoxical situation whereby the use of space to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) becomes unsustainable from the perspective of both the Earth and space environment. This situation can be described as the ‘space sustainability paradox’. This paper presents this concept for the first time and argues that existing policies and remediation actions are not a long-term sustainable solution for tackling this issue and may actually intensify the problem. This places an added importance upon addressing space sustainability in a more coherent, strategic and responsible manner, potentially based on the doughnut economic model of social and planetary boundaries. Doing so may prevent the sector from falling victim to a ‘tragedy of the commons’ type of scenario and avoid negative trends from becoming the norm. As a result, this would ensure that outer space can continue to be used by future generations to address societal challenges, without priming severe and enduring damage to the Earth and space environment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number138869
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date18 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2023


  • space sustainability
  • space sustainability paradox
  • sustainable development
  • outer space
  • global commons


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