Sustainability continued to be highlighted as a main goal in 2021, with space activities and technologies becoming cheaper, durable and cleaner due to the emergence of cost-effective manufacturing techniques and the development of reusable parts and rockets, which significantly reduce the externalities and cost of space research, launch and exploration.

But, as access to space technologies becomes further affordable and space becomes more crowded, its challenges become increasingly complex. Space traffic management and debris mitigation are now top priorities, whilst the role of space for achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals is increasingly acknowledged. For instance, in June 2021, G7 Leaders committed to act in order tackle the growing hazard of space debris through the creation of common rules and the active support of space debris removal initiatives, further calling other countries to follow the UN COPUOS Guidelines for the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space. And the World Economic Forum developed a Space Sustainability Rating in July 2021, which will begin issuing sustainability certifications to mission operators in 2022.

In Europe, projects are underway for space traffic management, with a European strategy for space traffic management to be issued at the beginning of 2022. In addition, back in 2021, ESA’s Matosinhos Manifesto, approved at the 2021 ESA Ministerial Summit, also highlighted, among other points, the importance of protecting space assets from debris and interference and the role of space in achieving environmental goals. And, on July 2021, ESA and NASA signed a statement of intent to create a strategic partnership seeking the use of space-based Earth observation data to tackle climate change. The US has also, in December 2021, issued its Space Priorities Framework, which also addresses sustainability as a top priority.

In Africa, the use of space technologies for achieving the SDGs is long recognized under Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, with more than 80 projects underway capitalising on earth observation resources and satellite communications for this purpose.