Skip to main content

Project description

The project brings together stakeholders to discuss the implications of ‘democratising Responsible Space Exploitation space’ and to identify the opportunities, challenges and barriers to creating an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable space industry.

Primary participants

Principal Investigators: 

Dr. James Osborn, Department of Physics,

Dr. Atanu Chaudhuri, Business School,

Professor James E. Ridgway, School of Education,

About Enabling Responsible Space Exploitation

The project brings together stakeholders from “space science” (notably, the space industry, physics and engineering, supply chain management, and ‘citizens’ (via applied social science and philosophy)) to discuss the implications of ‘democratising Responsible Space Exploitation space’ and to identify the opportunities, challenges and barriers to creating an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable space industry.

Back to Future Projects
Share page:

Space is the new Wild West. There is intense, unregulated, activity and planning from governments and private companies that encompass inter alia star wars, moon bases, asteroid mining, telecoms, and tourism. The popular phrase ‘democratisation of space’ is best translated as ‘imperialism and capitalism raw in tooth and claw’. There is a pressing need for ‘democratisation’ – where citizens globally influence decisions about space exploitation that will affect their lives. Our long-term ambition is to create a Durham-focussed nexus designed to support ‘democratisation’.

Our ambitions for the Durham nexus are to provide:

  • a forum where disparate groups can contest rival visions and ambitions
  • a ‘go-to’ domain map of who is planning/doing what to what/where/whom
  • ‘canaries in the mines’ indicators of emergent disruptive technologies, along with cross-impact matrices
  • a platform to highlight issues on which there is an urgent need for international agreement
  • input to inter-governmental agencies, and to the space industry which will impact opinion and action
  • promote current and future space activities to the public.

This proposal forms the first phase of our plan. The overarching research question for this scoping project is as follows:

How can humanity explore space responsibly without falling into the trap of creating value for individual stakeholders at the expense of others?

The specific research questions are:

  1. How can we define responsible space exploration?
    Defining such a meta concept requires understanding of various possible outcomes in terms of environmental, social, economic, legal and moral dimensions, and requires a multidisciplinary (and multicultural) approach. Measurement will require new conceptions, use of novel data sources, and new data representations.
  2. What can be the future scenarios for space exploitation?
    Scenario building is both an analytical and a creative exercise. It requires an understanding of macro and micro drivers, mapping of interconnections, and creative depiction of possible scenarios. Le Guin (2009) claimed “Imagination is the Responsible Space Exploitation instrument of ethics…” we plan to engage with thinkers possessing diverse imaginations, and to develop novel representations.
  3. How can different stakeholders be engaged in building ‘Responsible Space’?
    Currently, stakeholders appear to take action to maximise value without considering or understanding their impact on others. We will engage stakeholders in the creation of cross-impact matrices, linked to measures of ‘responsibility’.

The development and implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a model for our work, and also a target group to work with. SDGs include:

  • G16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • G17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Each goal is measured via a raft of indicators; there is an international accord that all governments should work towards the SDGs, and a system of global accountability.

The direct outputs from this project will be:

  • Definition and measures of responsible Space
  • Description of future space exploration scenarios in terms of cross-impact
  • A preliminary exploration of potential drivers of responsible behaviour amongst different stakeholders
  • Data visualisation tools to present the concepts in a way that can be understood and promote the participation of key stakeholders (industry, government agencies and the public)
  • An edited book based on our workshop presentations and activities.

Journal articles will be targeted at international and highly-regarded publications such as Science and Culture, Research Policy, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Operations Management and Advances in Space Research. We will also seek to publish articles in highly-distributed magazines such as The Room and The Conversation.

Our ambition is to develop the Durham Space Hub, a one-of-a kind centre, promoting interdisciplinary space research in UK and across the world. There are several Space networks in the UK with the aim of developing and testing technology, but none that actually discuss what should be - or even if - it should be done from the point of view of responsible space exploitation. We have been in contact with several of these technology networks and they are all extremely keen to partner with us and to help make this initial scoping concept a success.


Le Guin, 2009, Cheek by Jowl: Talks and Essays on How and Why fantasy Matters