Interview with Sravanti Pemmaraju

  1. What do you think has necessitated space exploration, do you consider overpopulation and extensive resource consumption as one of these?
    • The momentum has changed dramatically from the 1960s, with more engagement with private parties. Space activities are not just limited to military activities and have broadened to telecommunications, scientific exploration and earth observation etc. I think the root for space exploration is found in the wording of treaties, “for the greater benefit of mankind”. I believe that space activity is developing for the better, with the better services being provided, contributing to the greater scientific understanding. But this raises the question, where can governments draw a fine line between space exploration and space exploitation?
  1. Why should we care for space sustainability?
    • Look around you, all the services on your electronic devices are being supported from satellites in space. Can you imagine a world without the internet or communication? Probably not. To meet the basic needs of navigation, socio-economic development, security, space sustainability is utmost necessary. It doesn’t mean that nations are being discouraged to use space, but to the contrary, use outer space sustainably, ensuring access to all nations equally. Most space activities use the limited space in the low earth orbit.The need for space sustainability is particularly important in the use of mega constellations, which are the space objects of the day. Each project, usually for telecommunications, involves the launch of hundreds of satellites into the LEO, raising alarm bells for space sustainability. What we are seeing is a network of satellites, enveloping the Earth’s atmosphere like a blanket, thereby increasing the cost of using space. This contributes to the problem of orbital debris, which is the primary cause for rendering portions of outer space inaccessible for use. Space actors must be required to understand the drastic effects of orbital congestions, for them to explore measures of sustainability.
  1. How can we improve the space governance mechanism as both private and government sectors are now actively involved in space activities?
    • The inclusion of private actors allowed for innovation in outer space, but often improper regulation. The legal root of supervision and monitoring is found in Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty, which is viewed as one of those articles not considered customary international law. The wording of the article leaves it open for countries to determine the standard and the level of compliance. Therefore, for the same activity, different countries provide various compliance procedures, often leaving it open for private enterprises to cherry-pick their favoured jurisdiction. Additionally, the international documents are largely outdated, with no amendments to increase the scope of supervision for private activities. But organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union suggest compliance standards, at national and international levels, that nations are encouraged to implement, allowing the uniform application.
  1. What are the potential consequences that would arise if and when we start asteroid mining?
    • This decade has seen private enterprises amping up the race for space resources, and asteroid mining is one of the many efforts. The rationale for mining Asteroids is very simple- they are viewed as the leftover mineral-rich materials and thought to have compositions similar to that of earth. The issue with asteroid mining lies in the questions of ownership and possession. The original legal thought was that space resources lie in res communes, which means that no country can exercise sovereignty or jurisdiction beyond their space objects. But his concept is being diluted with States enacting domestic laws permitting mining in outer space. The consequence of mining is the inequality between states. States such as the USA are constantly moving towards mining, and this leaves behind those who have not undertaken space activities or are novices to space exploration. It becomes a question of who can reach the resource faster, and not about who can reach it efficiently or who can utilise it to the maximum. Second, on-earth mining is known to have negative effects on the environment. Expanding this theory to outer space can result in devastating impacts for future activities, culminating in the costs of mining and the technical support required for it.
  1. If and when we start asteroid mining, and we are able to extract various minerals that are rare to Earth, how does it affect the mineral market and in turn the global financial market?
    • The idea behind asteroid mining is to meet the growing demand for minerals that activities on Earth are unable to meet. However, experts note that prices of precious metals will be severely impacted, and a decline can be expected in their prices. What makes them precious is their limited, finite supply. Studies estimate the value of resources in asteroids and near earth objects in quadrillions, therefore the prices of other minerals is likely to drop, impacting economies such as those that depend on precious metal mining. I think this is an unlikely situation, as  only a few companies will engage in outer-space mining, and according to market policies, they will not be able to supply in excess, but only to meet what is demanded. A cross reference is the initial supply of diamonds, whose monopolised control has now been broken up. So those economies have time to look into other alternatives for balancing the economy, or revitalise the inefficient on-earth mines to meet the demands for precious earth metals.

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