Sustainability is a high priority for all industries as organizations work to address climate change and comply with evolving regulations.
Many in the space industry share these concerns. Over the next decade, the volume of orbiting satellites is expected to increase tenfold, possibly more. The U.S. General Administration Office (GAO) predicts that 58,000 satellites will be launched by 2030 — in addition to the 5,500 active satellites on orbit today. The GAO believes such dramatic growth in the global satellite fleet may lead to an increase in space debris, which would increase the risk of damage to satellites in orbit, as well as create national security issues.
That’s why it is critical for satellite operators to be good stewards of the space environment. This responsibility to sustainability can be addressed throughout the satellite lifecycle, including orbit raising, flight operations, and deorbiting.
Telesat’s commitment to space sustainability
Telesat’s focus is, and always has been, to be a good steward and manager of space-based resources on which our modern world relies. We believe that protecting the space environment starts long before a satellite gets to orbit, with the expectation that all satellite operators will follow best practices to ensure a controlled, reliable and safe space environment.
Our commitment to sustainability begins at the design stage. The Telesat Lightspeed Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, for example, are designed for 10‑years of in‑orbit operations — approximately double the design life of other LEO broadband satellites — and include robust capabilities to minimize the risk of operational failures.
Sustainability is also built into satellite launch and flight operations. For example:
- Each satellite’s initial injection from the launch vehicle will be well below its operational orbit, at 400-550 km altitude. If a satellite fails on injection with no ability to perform maneuvers, its orbit will passively decay and the satellite will burn up entirely on re-entry.
- The dispenser that releases satellites from the launch vehicle is designed to prevent collision via carefully controlled satellite separation velocities and incremental phasing of releases.
- Telesat’s Satellite Operations Centre will automatically process space situational awareness notifications to ensure proactive maneuvering that minimizes any risk of collision.
- Each satellite will perform collision avoidance maneuvers as necessary to avoid large and small debris during orbit raising, throughout its mission life in operational orbit, and during its deorbiting phase.
- Telesat Lightspeed satellites are designed to avoid any release of debris during flight operations and do not use any persistent liquids which could have long-term, negative effects in space.
Telesat has also developed a well-planned deorbit strategy; over our 53-year history of satellite operations, 100% of our GEO satellites have been successfully deorbited at their end of life. We expect to maintain that success rate with our LEO constellation. Our deorbit target is no more than two years after satellite decommissioning, which is less than the five-year requirement set by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.
Also, we have incorporated high standards into our satellite design and manufacturing requirements, including a high degree of reliability and redundancy for all critical platform functions that are required to perform deorbit, including special features that facilitate capture and deorbit by a tug vehicle in the highly unlikely event that a satellite was to become derelict.
Finally, our sustainability plans extend to open data collaboration. We share our orbital data and coordinate maneuvers with other satellite operators; mitigate conjunctions and RF interference; and provide geo-location support to the Combined Space Operations Center, the Space Data Association, other satellite operators, and contracted Space Situational Awareness (SSA) services.
Telesat is also cooperating with several SSA service providers in preparation for our Telesat Lightspeed constellation. We believe that accurate and timely orbital data is key to lowering operational risks and optimizing constellation operations, even as space becomes more crowded.