plea to regulate the conquest of space

Book. Alert, danger! After the planet, it is the turn of low orbit to be threatened. In less than a decade, this inner suburb located between 400 and 1,200 kilometers from Earth has transformed into a “playground where all excesses can be expressed”, deplores Raphaël Chevrier in his book Space Reavers (Buchet-Chastel, 224 pages, 19.90 euros). The main culprit is Elon Musk, “the first to open the ball” and that, “after having fascinated for a while, begins to seriously worry”, underlines this doctor in physics working in the space industry. This revolution, known as “New Space”, which opened up to start-ups a field previously reserved for large public institutions, initially revived dreams of space conquest.

Also read our archive (2018): The Wild West of space at the time of the SpaceX tsunami

“One thing is certain: having become the new frontier, space has never been so accessible”, notes the author while listing the multiple private projects in progress, ranging from thousands of satellites put into orbit to ensure terrestrial coverage of the Internet and respond to new applications, to space tourism accessible to a few billionaires, not to mention the most crazy about conquering planets or exploiting outer space resources. All against a backdrop of militarization of space and above all without precise rules. The law of the strongest prevails, as at the time of the conquest of the Far West. It then leaves the field open to unscrupulous entrepreneurs. And sometimes the craziest announcements.

Throughout the chapters, the issues and risks linked to a return to the Moon are analyzed in detail, as is the prospect of the colonization of Mars. Added to this is a description of the share of space in global pollution, accompanied by an assessment of the environmental impact of rocket launches.

“Act in time, as for the climate”

“The new approach of New Space has not only killed all critical thinking, but it also makes us turn a blind eye to the real risks posed to the sustainable use of the cosmos”worries the author, who wonders how to save our common good. “As with the climate, we must act on time, collectively. » But the various regulatory attempts to fill the legal void in low orbit listed in the book demonstrate that, from intention to realization, the path is likely to be very long. International cooperation is essential in order to be effective, if only, for example, to manage the elimination of increasing amounts of debris.

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