How the Astra Carta can Transform Space Governance

The Astra Carta, a joint statement of intent towards space sustainability, was launched on 28 June by King Charles. The Open Lunar Team and Directors played a central role in the development of the Zero Draft, drawing on the deep expertise that we have in space, technology, sustainable development and global policy.

Depending on the context, sustainability can be a catch-all term for just about anything. It’s a concern that will resonate with many. It is especially true in sectors where the term has not achieved a consensus around what it means for that sector by active stakeholders. During one of our recent community meetings here at Open Lunar, one of our Affiliates said that they were suspicious of the word ‘sustainability’ for just these reasons. 

In the financial sector, for example, notions around sustainable or socially responsible investing were mired in simplistic approaches to excluding certain companies and/or sectors from a fund. This ‘investment screening’ approach originated in the religious preferences of American retail investors, for example Quakers, who wanted to avoid investing in alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and gambling stocks. It eventually expanded to include political objectives, especially for retail and institutional investors opposed to companies benefitting from South African Apartheid policies. 

It wasn’t until UN Secretary General Kofi Annan led a process to define responsible investment in the context of the UN Millennium Development goals – and then embed that definition into an endorsable and implementable partnership framework – that a true understanding of a common approach to sustainable investing, now more commonly referred to as “ESG Investing” for environmental, social and governance, that the sector began to internalize as a common sector wide sustainability framework. 

Similarly to the financial sector of 2005, the Space sector today lacks such an ‘at-scale’ process for defining and advancing sustainability. This means that companies are hesitant to act, individuals are suspicious of sustainability claims, and policymakers are uncertain about what initiatives are likely to survive and grow such that they can form the basis for regulation. The sector has been bogged down in uncertainty. 

The Astra Carta has the potential to change all of that, in just the same way that the Principles for Responsible Investment changed the global financial sector. The Astra Carta – essentially a joint statement of intent towards space sustainability – was launched last month by King Charles, following an intensive development of a zero draft now posted on the Sustainable Markets Initiative website.

The Open Lunar Team and Directors played a central role in the development of the Zero Draft. Drawing on the deep expertise that we collectively have in space, technology, sustainable development and global policy. 

The Launch

The launch event was itself an out of this world experience. Participants from around the world, representing industry, science, technology, and exploration, came together at Buckingham Palace to witness the unveiling of the Astra Carta seal and Summarium.

The ceremony was held next to the Picture Gallery, in the music room, with its tall windows open to the grassy courtyard below so that the warm June air could flood into the antique surroundings, itself reminding the participants of the importance of being connected to nature, while also providing a sense of history through the works of Canaletto, Vermeer, and Rembrandt hanging just adjacent. 

Open Lunar’s Chair Chris Hadfield framed the Astra Carta in terms of the huge challenges and opportunities surrounding space exploration while also noting the tremendous strides we have made towards decreasing the costs and increasing the reliability of returning to space, in large part thanks to the innovation unleashed by enrolling the commercial sector in space exploration. 

The King stayed for most of the reception, engaging in meaningful conversations with the participants and encouraging us forward in the spirit that the Astra Carta was meant to embody, namely: To Care for the Infinite Wonders of the Universe. 

Astra Carta’s Lunar Implications

The document itself is divided into sections. It begins with an introduction noting that “The Astra Carta is our pledge to future generations – a promise that we will navigate the celestial realms with wisdom, foresight, and responsibility”. It moves into a Preface that outlines actions that the supporters of the Astra Carta take to embody this pledge. Of particular importance for Open Lunar’s work are the following two commitments related to the Moon: 

Article 2: Realizing Infinite Possibility, states: 

“Committing to lunar exploration, and beyond. The Moon remains an artefact of our past success; it is now on track to become a proximate proving ground for permanent human habitation offworld. The Moon presents immense opportunities for scientific research, resource utilization experiments, and technological innovations...”

Article 3: Default Sustainable in Space, states: 

“Establishing protocols and guidelines … for the protection of celestial bodies, including the Moon, Mars and asteroids, from contamination and interference to preserve their scientific, historical and cultural value.”

Open Lunar is pleased to see our work encapsulated so elegantly in this Zero Draft, and we will continue to work with and support the Astra Carta team as they transition from this starting point towards implementation. 

It will not be easy. The current Astra Carta charter runs to 30 pages. It reads like a long list cataloguing every action that could be taken in support of space sustainability. While noble in inclusivity, such documents can be difficult to pass through the notoriously close readings such commitments are subjected to by the corporate counsels of both small and large companies, who fear being called out by stakeholders for not living up to commitments they make, even those clearly identified as voluntary. 

In contrast, the Principles for Responsible Investment are a sum total of 91 words. This was absolutely by design, and it disappointed many. However, the results speak for themselves. Over 5,000 organizations have now publicly committed to these principles. By running a process that incorporated and then encapsulated stakeholders views, the PRI was able to develop a set of commitments that were not only impactful, but scalable. A clear lesson of the PRI is simply “how much meaning can one pack into how few words.” 

The Astra Carta now embarks on a similar consultative process to progress its Zero Draft from a 30-page document to a place where stakeholders can coalesce around a sense of common purpose. I, for one, firmly believe that almost everyone in the space sector wishes “To Care for the Infinite Wonders of the Universe”. I am struck by the optimism, energy, and enthusiasm, perhaps almost unique to this sector. The Astra Carta must find a way to align this energy with the empathy at its core, and do so in a way we can easily understand and act upon. 

If it can achieve this, we may yet see the true transformation that the King seeks to inspire.