Dr Nikita Chiu, Senior Lecturer in Innovation Policy, University of Exeter; Ad Astra Distinguished Fellow in Robotic and Outer Space Governance, Space Engineering Research Center, USC
Space Sustainability & Technology Governance
As summer draws to a close, I look forward to joining an interdisciplinary team of experts at the IAS in Durham in Michaelmas term. I will be working with Dr James Osborn (Physics), Dr Atanu Chaudhuri (Business School), and Professor Jim Ridgway (Education) to advance interdisciplinary research in the area of global space governance with the Enabling Responsible Space Exploitation project. The idea is to initiate a series of inter-sectoral engagement with industry, governments, and academia, with the goal to strengthen collaborations between space clusters across the UK, as well as consolidate UK’s international leadership and regional development in the space sector.
This has a been a Fellowship long in the making. When I first looked into Space Governance, the golden era of space exploration had long gone; the tragedies of the space shuttles and astronauts lost still haunted societies’ memories; and many had dismissed Outer Space affairs as irrelevant all together. Yet, the space infrastructure continues to silently support our daily socio-economic activities, contributing to time-stamping in finance, climate-modelling in research on climate change, ensuring connectivity in remote and rural regions, advancing our knowledge in science and (strengthening our defence capability). In essence, it plays an often invisible, but integral role in many aspects of the smooth functioning of society.
With the deteriorating geopolitical environment, coupled with the increasing interest in commercializing the space sector, the topic of space has re-emerged in major national and global discussions. Few had thought of the UK’s relation with the European Space Agency when the Brexit referendum was first discussed, and even fewer had looked into the details of how the result may affect the country’s involvement in major projects such as Galileo and Copernicus, Europe’s satellite navigation and earth observation systems. In parallel, as multiple actors seek to install mega-satellite constellations in the low earth orbit, the exponential increase in the number of satellites had made international dialogue on space traffic and space debris mitigation all the more pressing.
Multilateralism is under enormous pressure at the moment, yet the degradation of the orbital environment will not respect national boundaries and will affect us all. It will require concerted efforts and resolve of the international community to ensure the continuous sustainability of the space environment. Pioneering a new body of knowledge at the intersection of Technology, Business, and Global Governance, I hope to take the opportunity that IAS presents to advance the topic of Space Sustainability and Technology Governance.
As Working Group Lead of an international and interdisciplinary project, I have seen first-hand how new ways of thinking and problem-solving could emerge out from breaking disciplinary boundaries. The project, entitled “Traces as Research Agenda for Climate Change, Technology Studies, and Social Justice (TRACTS)”, brings together artists, as well as scholars in STEM and social sciences to brainstorm visions of a more responsible and sustainable future. In an exploratory workshop held at the University of Exeter earlier, I must say I found the presentation of an artist’s critique of AI-enabled misinformation a refreshing and most welcome addition to the broader debate on Technology Governance.
In recent years, we have witnessed technological advances, social movements, and geopolitical developments converge rapidly to transform global dynamics. There has never been a more pressing time to engage in transdisciplinary dialogue to anticipate and address risks posed by such disruptive changes. I look forward to meeting the wider community at Durham in the coming months to advance a broader understanding of this important topic.