Losing The Sky: Event

A live public discussion took place on June 15th 2021 at 19:30 BST, bringing together forty international experts including Andy Lawrence, Brian Eno, Catherine Heymans and many others. What are the real issues, and what should we do? For information on the associated book, click here. For what you can do to help, click here. A recording of the event is on the YouTube channel of the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh. Here is a transcript of the Zoom-chat between the participants. The video is also embedded below

Recording of the event

Connecting the world sounds great: very few people would argue with that goal, and what new space companies have been doing is visionary and exciting. However, experts around the world are become increasingly anxious about where the New Space Race is heading. Astronomers are being photo-bombed by the huge fleets of new spacecraft; the inexorable increase in space debris is threatening the viability of activity in space; our last global shared wilderness is being ruthlessly annexed; some space companies feel they are facing a playing field that isn’t level; and policy experts worry that the legal framework set up in the 1960s is no longer fit for purpose.

The debate on these issues has so far been mostly in highly technical scientific and business meetings. The idea of this event was to bring together a wide range of experts from around the world to explain and debate the issues at a more general level. We also aim to ask the question: where do we go from here? The debate took place on Zoom, and was simultaneously live-streamed on Youtube for the general public. The debate is hosted by the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh (ASE), partnering with the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University Edinburgh, and the Gnosis Network.

Following a brief opening, the event had five parts:

Opening (19:30 BST = 20:30 CEST = 14:30 EDT = 11:30 PDT)

Welcome: Mark Phillips (President of the ASE)
Introduction: Andy Lawrence (Univ. Edinburgh)

Part I: Astronomical Science: Why are Astronomers worried?

Chair: Mark McCaughrean (European Space Agency)
Panelist-1: Meredith Rawls (Univ. Washington, Seattle)
Panelist-2: Sam Lawler (Univ. Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada)
Panelist-3: Michael Kramer (Max Planck Inst. for Radio Astronomy, Bonn)

Part II: Connecting the world: why are space companies building huge constellations?

Chair: Catherine Heymans (Univ. Edinburgh)
Panelist-1: Ruth Pritchard-Kelly (Oneweb)
Panelist-2: Amy Mehlman (Viasat)

Part III: Environment and Culture: What is our right to the sky? Should we care?

Chair: Jarita Holbrook (Univ. Edinburgh)
Panelist-1: Timiebi Aganaba (Arizona State University)
Panelist-2: Brian Eno (Musician and environmental campaigner)
Panelist-3: Aparna Venkatesan (University of San Francisco)

Part IV: Space Junk: Does the growth of space debris really threaten everybody’s use of space?

Chair: Jonathan McDowell (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
Panelist-1: Moriba Jah (Univ. Texas at Austin)
Panelist-2: Alan Thompson (Skyrora)
Panelist-3: Hugh Lewis (Univ. Southampton)

Part V: Space Law: who has the say on who is allowed to do what, and should it change?

Chair: Katherine Courtney (KCourtney Business Innovation and Strategy)
Panelist-1: Chris Newman (Univ. Northumbria)
Panelist-2: Stefano Gallozzi (Italian National Institute of Astrophysics)
Panelist-3: Brian Weeden (Secure World Foundation)
Panelist-4: Niklas Hedman (United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs)

The panelists

Timiebi Aganaba: Assistant Professor of Space and Society, Arizona State University. Timiebi recently wrote a fascinating article in The Conversation on the lack of legal penalties for leaving junk in space.

Katherine Courtney: An experienced business consultant, chair of the Gnosis Network aimed at bringing scientists and industry together to solve the problem of space debris, and also founder of the Primary Space programme aimed at bringing children into the UK space sector.

Brian Eno: internationally renowned musician, artist, and public speaker. As well as pioneering ambient music and generative music, he invented the famous oblique strategy cards for fostering creativity. More recently Brian founded Earth Percent, an initiative for musicians and music industry to pledge a percentage of income to fighting climate change.

Stefano Gallozzi: Astronomer at the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics, Frascati. As well as writing two key technical papers on the issue of satellite megaconstellations, Stefano started the Astronomers Appeal petition

Jarita Holbrook: School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Edinburgh. Astrophysicist, Cultural Astronomer, and Film Maker. Jarita studies astronomy in culture using methods from anthropology and sociology and has carried out ethnographic studies of indigenous astronomy especially in Africa. She made the award winning documentary “Black Suns: An Astrophysics Adventure“.

Niklas Hedman: Chief of Committee, Policy and Legal Affairs section of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs. Before joining the UN, Niklas was in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has extensive experience in the Law of the Sea, and disarmament and non-proliferation, as well as Space policy, making him ideal to give us a broad perspective.

Catherine Heymans: Professor of Cosmology, University of Edinburgh, and the new Astronomer Royal for Scotland. A world expert on the mapping of dark matter, she has published a free popular book on the The Dark Universe. Catherine is also a popular public speaker, and with Andy Lawrence, created the popular MOOC AstroTech: The Science and Technology behind Astronomical Discovery.

Moriba Jah: Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin. World recognised expert on on non-gravitational astrodynamics, space object tracking and identification, and space domain awareness. Moriba created the Astriagraph tool for visualising the space debris population. A familiar and popular figure in US media, was also recently featured on the BBC World Service Crowd Science programme.

Michael Kramer: Director, Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, Bonn. He won the Herschel medal of the Royal Astronomical Society for his work on testing Einstein’s relativity using pulsar astrophysics. Recently Michael has been lobbying the German government on the potential problems of satellite megaconstellations.

Sam Lawler: Assistant Professor of Astronomy, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. She studies the dynamics of small solar system bodies, a topic which may be particularly badly affected by satellite megaconstellations. Sam wrote an article in The Conversation emphasising in particular the effect on indigenous skywatchers. She is also the co-lead of a report to the Canadian Government on the issue.

Andy Lawrence: Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. He is a world expert on the study of Active Galactic Nuclei, and a pioneer of the Virtual Observatory. Andy also works in survey astronomy, which will be particularly affected by satellite megaconstelllations. He is the author of the non-technical book Losing The Sky, and has led the creation of this live event.

Hugh Lewis: Professor of Engineering and Head of Astronautics Research Group, University of Southampton, and a specialist in modelling the behaviour and effects of debris in space. A key contributor to the “Long Term Sustainability of Outer Space” policy of the United Nations. Hugh was recently quoted in a New York Times article reporting his work linking the climate change with the orbital decay of low earth orbit spacecraft, which may mean that the Starlink method for avoiding orbit overcrowding won’t work.

Mark McCaughrean: Senior Advisor for Science and Exploration, European Space Agency. Frequently on radio interviews across Europe. Mark is also the founder of “Space Rocks Live”, a series of events mixing live rock music and space, and an associated webcast called Uplink.

Jonathan McDowell: Astronomer at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, specialising in quasars and black holes. Jonathan also maintains the world’s most comprehensive database and updates of launches and space activity. Frequently consulted by US press and media, for example quoted widely across the media during the recent Chinese rocket crash

Ruth Pritchard-Kelly: an expert on satellite regulatory policy with over 30 years of experience. She is currently the Senior Advisor for Regulatory Affairs at OneWeb where she advises a global team of legal & technical policy analysts who worked on satellite policies internationally.  Pritchard-Kelly has also worked at O3b, now SES Networks, and American Mobile Satellite Corporation.  She has a Master’s Degree in space and telecommunications policy from George Washington University and a J.D. from the University of Maryland. Ms. Pritchard-Kelly is on the US Commerce Department’s Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, and the board of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation.

Amy Mehlman: Vice President of Government Affairs and Policy, Viasat Corporation. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience about policy and regulation specific to the telecommunications industry, especially the satellite sector. Amy joined Viasat in 2020. She is also keenly active in promoting the position of women in science, technology, and industry.

Chris Newman: Professor of Space Law and Policy, University of Northumbria. Chris specialises in the legal and ethical underpinnings of Space Governance. He has made numerous TV and radio appearances in the UK speaking as an expert on space law and policy issues. He has appeared on Sky News at 1 with Adam Boulton, BBC Radio 4 Today, BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC World Service TV.

Meredith Rawls: Astronomer at the University of Washington, Seattle, working on the Vera Rubin Observatory, a new survey telescope which will be particularly badly affected by satellite megaconstellations. Meredith wrote a particularly important technical article which questioned the business case of satellite constellations.

Alan Thompson: Head of Government Affairs, Skyrora. Alan has a background in international trade and development, and for example worked at the Russian-British Chamber of Commerce. Skyrora is an ambitious new launch company based in Scotland, who amongst other things have plans for a space tug.

Aparna Venkatesan: Cosmologist at the University of San Francisco, working on studies of the first stars and galaxies in the early Universe. Aparna wrote a wide ranging article for Nature which emphasised the sky as an ancestral commons, planetary protection, and the long term future of our use of space.

Brian Weeden: Director of Planning for the Secure World Foundation. Brian has a background in the US Air Force working in space and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) operations. He conducts research on space debris, global space situational awareness, space traffic management, protection of space assets, and space governance, and has featured in many media outlets.

More participants

Robert Antonucci: Dept of Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara
Aaron Boley: Outer Space Institute, University of British Columbia
Thomas Cheney: Centre for Spacefaring Civilisation, Open University
John Davies: Astronomer, UK Astronomy Technology Centre.
Ralph Dinsley: Executive Director, Northern Space and Security (NORSS) 
Stuart Eves: Director of SJESpace Ltd
Simon Garrington: Deputy Director, Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics
Pippa Goldschmidt, Science Fiction author
Jessica Heim: PhD student at University of Wales,  Sophia Project on Cosmology in Culture. 
James Holtum: Rasmussen Global political consultancy, Brussels
Tim Maclay: CEO, Celestial Insight, Inc
Bob Mann:  Astronomer, University of Edinburgh, and co-PI of Gnosis network
Tim O’Brien: Astronomer, Deputy Director, Jodrell Bank
Don Pollacco: Astronomer, University of  Warwick, PI of Gnosis network
Nic Ross: Space Senior Research Analyst, Astroagency, Edinburgh 
Heidi Thiemann: Scientist, Space Skills Alliance
Connie Walker: astronomer at NOIR lane and lead author of the DQS report
Joanne Wheeler: Managing Partner, Alden Legal, space lawyers
Andy Williams: External Relations Officer, European Southern Observatory