In today’s fast-paced, digital age where information travels around the world at a speed matching the often too-frenetic pace of our own lives, we are constantly presented with stark reminders of the challenges of sustainable development. A well-known definition of sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
Whether it’s reducing harmful waste emissions from our industries to preserve air, water, and land quality, mitigating the negative impact of anthropogenic activities on climate, improving energy efficiency to save limited resources, or preserving our planet’s natural biodiversity while responsibly utilizing its vast yet finite resources—we all hear the call to find new solutions to sustain the quality of life on Earth.
The year 2020 is a clarion call to action, the beginning of a pivotal new decade of resolve focused on achieving ambitious targets for environmental sustainability that are key to preserving our way of life. National governments, private industry, nonprofit organizations, academia, environmental activists, and even individual concerned citizens are joining together to form new alliances and pool resources to find new pathways into that space where the protection of people, the preservation of the planet, and the pursuit of profit overlap.
The rapid development and deployment of new, affordable technologies for Earth observation are critical factors for achieving sustainable development goals, and the unique operating environment and capabilities of the International Space Station (ISS) offer the potential for significant contributions.
Since the earliest days of operation, the ISS has been used to monitor global climate, ecological, and environmental change and natural disasters through a unique complement of crew-operated and automated Earth observation platforms. As discussed in a recent report, this data has enhanced climate models that are essential for forecasting global changes in Earth’s climate and weather, and in determining the role of human activities in these changes.
Fast-forwarding to the present, the ISS U.S. National Laboratory has sponsored the development and in-orbit testing of several sustainability-related technologies, and there are currently more than 30 such projects in its portfolio. Examples include a sensor from Orbital Sidekick that can detect hydrocarbon leaks in oil and gas installations from space to enable early leak mitigation, novel nanoporous membranes developed by Cemsica for CO2 capture, and three discrete projects addressing sustainable cotton production under the Target Cotton Sustainability Challenge.
Additionally, the ISS National Lab has held public workshops at the last two ISS Research and Development Conferences (ISSRDC) that focused on addressing environmental sustainability through ISS technology development projects. The 2018 workshop focused on water sustainability, while the 2019 workshop addressed plastic pollution.
Working in collaboration with partners who are ready to heed the call to action, we look forward to the continued use of the ISS National Lab to address global sustainability challenges and progress toward solutions that benefit life on Earth now and in the future.
To learn more about the diverse set of sustainability-related research and development projects in the ISS National Lab portfolio, see the Upward feature “Spaceflight Studies for a Sustainable Future” and the related resources below.