Cultural Resources Management in Outer Space: Historic Preservation in the Graveyard Orbits

Published by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Synesis Journal:


Continuing advancements in commercial on-orbit servicing and operationally responsive space capabilities will soon allow new degrees of latitude in how satellites are interacted with and perceived. Now seen primarily as increasingly hazardous debris, non-operational artifacts in orbit can be re-envisioned as repairable or refuelable, as raw material, and also in some cases, as historic objects worthy of preserving into the future. The same robotic servicing platforms that will allow such a potential sorting of use, also make possible the relocation and clustering of certain satellites into specific orbital sequestration refuges that would be similar in function to museums. In addition to the ethical and cultural dimensions of preserving representative examples of such historical material, practical and economic rationales for doing so exist in the form of long-term material science research potential, and in supplying future space tourism and cultural resource management related fields. The advent of both fractionated and miniaturized satellite architectures, partly achieved already, will likely accelerate the already rapid rate at which the current generation of monolithic satellites will become obsolete and potential candidates for new on-orbit technology applications.