Space Sustainability: Preserving the Usability of Outer Space
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Space Sustainability: Preserving the Usability of Outer Space

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The following content is sponsored by Secure World Foundation.

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Space Sustainability: Preserving the Usability of Outer Space

Humanity is yet to explore the limits of our universe, but outer space is already becoming an increasingly important resource for the Earth.

The Earth’s orbits support various satellite applications that enable the technologies we use on a daily basis. While space might seem infinite, the orbits in which satellites travel constitute a limited natural resource with a finite amount of physical space. These orbits are becoming more and more crowded with satellites and space junk—and managing this resource sustainably is critical to the future of activities in space.

The above infographic from our sponsor Secure World Foundation highlights the challenges facing space sustainability and the potential solutions that can help manage this resource for the future.

The Need to Preserve Outer Space

Thousands of satellites orbit the Earth at different altitudes, providing social, scientific, and economic benefits to people across the globe. While some satellites are helping advance science and exploration in space, others are monitoring the Earth’s environment and aiding disaster management on the ground.

However, space is a global resource, where the presence and actions of one actor can affect all the others in orbit. In 1990, there were less than 500 active satellites orbiting the Earth. Today, there are more than 4,000 active satellites in space. Furthermore, with companies like SpaceX launching expansive satellite networks, the majority of active satellites today are for commercial purposes, with a smaller portion serving government, military, civil, and academic needs.

The rapid increase in the number of satellites, driven by the commercial sector, poses challenges to the future of space activity and sustainability.

Three Challenges to Space Sustainability

Space sustainability is ensuring that all humanity can continue to use outer space for peaceful purposes and socioeconomic benefits now and in the long term. This will require international cooperation, discussion, and agreements designed to ensure that outer space is safe, secure, and peaceful.

There are several challenges facing space sustainability, but three important issues stand out.

Challenge #1:
Space Junk

As the term suggests, space junk or orbital debris refers to defunct satellites, old rocket bodies, and fragmented objects in space that no longer serve a useful purpose.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the mass of all debris objects in space summed up to 8,800 tonnes as of December 2020. This includes:

  • 34,000 objects greater than 10cm in size
  • 900,000 objects between 1cm and 10cm
  • 128 million objects between 1mm and 1cm

Although these objects seem small in size, they can travel at speeds up to 29,000 km/h or roughly 8 km/s. As a result, even collisions with small pieces of debris can have dangerous consequences for those in space.

The increasing amount of space junk brings up another issue—the physical congestion in Earth’s orbits.

Challenge #2:
Orbital Crowding

The Earth’s orbits have a limited amount of physical space. Today, these orbits host thousands of satellites of different sizes, in addition to the debris and objects that are floating around.

Physical crowding of orbits with satellites and debris can lead to a chain reaction known as the Kessler syndrome. This refers to a scenario where the density of objects in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects can create a cascading effect where each collision generates debris that increases the probability of further collisions.

Moreover, satellite constellations—large networks of satellites—are becoming more common. Here are some examples of planned satellite constellations as of August 10, 2021:

CompanyConstellation NameNumber of Satellites
SpaceXStarlink41,493
China SatNetGuo Wang12,992
OneWebN/A6,372
Lynk GlobalN/A5,000
AmazonKuiper3,326
Hanwha SystemsN/A2,000
SatRevolutionREC1,024

Orbital crowding with satellites and space junk can cause both physical congestion and electromagnetic interference, hindering communication and security in space.

Challenge #3:
Space Security

Militaries use space to support operations with communications, intelligence, navigation, and surveillance satellites, which play an important role in both national and international security.

However, with more nations integrating space into their security measures, there is an increased risk of conflict in case of any satellite interference. As a result, militaries are developing capabilities to disrupt, degrade, or destroy satellites for national security reasons.

Since 1959, China, India, Russia, and the U.S. have carried out more than 70 anti-satellite (ASAT) tests collectively. These tests generated over 5,000 pieces of debris that are currently being tracked, in addition to the thousands of smaller objects that are too small to track.

Managing Space: A Resource for the Future

Space junk, orbital crowding, and space security are challenges that call for policies, practices, and technologies to use space sustainably.

Potential solutions to these issues range from technical measures like removing space debris, managing orbital traffic, and improving situational awareness, to policy measures like space governance, data-sharing, and implementing effective regulations.

While some of these initiatives are already underway, such as the world’s first debris removal mission launching in 2025, ensuring space sustainability on a global level will require policy and technical measures on a global scale.

Secure World Foundation promotes cooperative solutions for space sustainability and the peaceful uses of outer space.

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Smashing Atoms: The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is among the world’s cleanest sources of energy, but how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?

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The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Uranium has been around for millennia, but we only recently began to understand its unique properties.

Today, the radioactive metal fuels hundreds of nuclear reactors, enabling carbon-free energy generation across the globe. But how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?

The above infographic from the Sprott Physical Uranium Trust outlines the history of nuclear energy and highlights the role of uranium in producing clean energy.

From Discovery to Fission: Uncovering Uranium

Just like all matter, the history of uranium and nuclear energy can be traced back to the atom.

Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, first discovered uranium in 1789 by extracting it from a mineral called “pitchblende”. He named uranium after the then newly discovered planet, Uranus. But the history of nuclear power really began in 1895 when German engineer Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays and radiation, kicking off a series of experiments and discoveries—including that of radioactivity.

In 1905, Albert Einstein set the stage for nuclear power with his famous theory relating mass and energy, E = mc2. Roughly 35 years later, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman confirmed his theory by firing neutrons into uranium atoms, which yielded elements lighter than uranium. According to Einstein’s theory, the mass lost during the reaction changed into energy. This demonstrated that fission—the splitting of one atom into lighter elements—had occurred.

“Nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy which we use today.”

—Winston Churchill, 1955.

Following the discovery of fission, scientists worked to develop a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. In 1939, a team of French scientists led by Frédéric Joliot-Curie demonstrated that fission can cause a chain reaction and filed the first patent on nuclear reactors.

Later in 1942, a group of scientists led by Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard set off the first nuclear chain reaction through the Chicago Pile-1. Interestingly, they built this makeshift reactor using graphite bricks on an abandoned squash court in the University of Chicago.

These experiments proved that uranium could produce energy through fission. However, the first peaceful use of nuclear fission did not come until 1951, when Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-1) in Idaho generated the first electricity sourced from nuclear power.

The Power of the Atom: Nuclear Power and Clean Energy

Nuclear reactors harness uranium’s properties to generate energy without any greenhouse gas emissions. While uranium’s radioactivity makes it unique, it has three other properties that stand out:

  • Material Density: Uranium has a density of 19.1g/cm3, making it one of the densest metals on Earth. For reference, it is nearly as heavy (and dense) as gold.
  • Abundance: At 2.8 parts per million, uranium is approximately 700 times more abundant than gold, and 37 times more abundant than silver.
  • Energy Density: Uranium is extremely energy-dense. A one-inch tall uranium pellet contains the same amount of energy as 120 gallons of oil.

Thanks to its high energy density, the use of uranium fuel makes nuclear power more efficient than other energy sources. This includes renewables like wind and solar, which typically require much more land (and more units) to generate the same amount of electricity as a single nuclear reactor.

But nuclear power offers more than just a smaller land footprint. It’s also one of the cleanest and most reliable energy sources available today, poised to play a major role in the energy transition.

The Future of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Although nuclear power is often left out of the clean energy conversation, the ongoing energy crisis has brought it back into focus.

Several countries are going nuclear in a bid to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while building reliable energy grids. For example, nuclear power is expected to play a prominent role in the UK’s plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Furthermore, Japan recently approved restarts at three of its nuclear reactors after initially phasing out nuclear power following the Fukushima accident.

The resurgence of nuclear power, in addition to reactors that are already under construction, will likely lead to higher demand for uranium—especially as the world embraces clean energy.

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Showcasing the Strength of Canadian Gold Mining

Canadian gold mining has grown to become a highly prolific industry, thanks to its geological riches and political stability.

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Showcasing the Strength of Canadian Gold Mining

Gold mining has long played an integral role in shaping Canada’s cities and its modern day economy. The gold mining infrastructure that was built alongside the country’s towns in the 19th century has grown to provide $21.6 billion worth of exports for Canada in 2020.

When combined with the country’s superb geology, Canada’s jurisdictional strengths make it one of the most prolific and secure locations in the world for mining companies to explore, develop, and produce gold.

This infographic sponsored by Clarity Gold dives into how Canada has grown into a nation built for gold mining. Both in how the country facilitates the production of gold, and how the gold mining industry supports Canada’s economy and local communities.

Canada’s Golden Geology and Production

Gold is scattered across the Canadian landscape in a variety of gold mining regions and districts, with the most prolific located between Ontario and Québec.

The 2 billion year-old Archean greenstone belt that arcs through the centre of the Canadian shield provides the foundation for the Abitibi gold belt, which has produced more than 190Moz of gold.

Gold Mining District/RegionProvinces/TerritoriesGold Produced (million troy ounces)
Abitibi Greenstone BeltOntario and Québec>190Moz
Trans-Hudson CorridorSaskatchewan and Manitoba>40Moz
Red LakeOntario>30Moz
Golden TriangleBritish Columbia>5Moz

Source: Resource World

The Trans-Hudson corridor in Saskatchewan and Manitoba has produced more than 40Moz of gold, while the Red Lake mining district of eastern Ontario and the Golden Triangle in British Columbia have delivered >30Moz and >5Moz respectively.

Last year, Canada’s top 10 mines produced 3.26 million ounces of gold combined, equating to more than $6 billion worth of the yellow precious metal.

MineProvince/TerritoryPrimary Owner/Operator2020 Gold Production (thousand troy ounces)
Canadian MalarticQuébecYamana/Agnico Eagle569Koz
Detour LakeOntarioKirkland Lake517Koz
LaRonde (incl. LZ5)QuébecAgnico Eagle350Koz
BrucejackBritish ColumbiaPretium348Koz
PorcupineOntarioNewmont319Koz
MeliadineNunavutAgnico Eagle312Koz
Rainy RiverOntarioNew Gold229Koz
HemloOntarioBarrick Gold223Koz
MeadowbankNunavutAgnico Eagle209Koz
MacassaOntarioKirkland Lake183Koz

Source: Kitco

Ontario and Québec are the powerhouse provinces of Canadian gold production, hosting 30 mines between the two provinces.

A Nation Built for Gold Mining

Canada’s politically secure nature and established permitting process has resulted in five of the 10 largest gold mining companies having projects in Canada. Three Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan, Québec, and Newfoundland & Labrador) are among the world’s 10 most attractive mining investment jurisdictions according to the Fraser Institute’s 2020 survey of mining companies.

Beyond the legal and permitting strengths of the nation, Canada’s extensive network of capital markets has enabled the Canadian companies to dominate the world’s gold mining industry. With Agnico Eagle and Kirkland Lake’s upcoming merger, three of the world’s top five gold mining companies will be headquartered in Canada.

The Canadian equity markets are a key driver of the world’s gold exploration and development funding, with the TSX having raised $7.5 billion in mining equity capital in 2020. Gold still remains the major driver of these money flows, with gold mining companies making up more than half of Canada’s mining exploration budget.

How Gold Mining Gives Back to Canada

Ever since the first discoveries of gold across Canada in the 1800s, the development and production of gold mines has been the foundation for many towns and merchants across the nation.

Today, Canada’s mining industry directly employs more than 392,000 Canadians, with the sector offering the highest average annual industrial rate of pay in the country at $123,000. The industry is also proportionally the largest private sector employer of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

From the nation’s prolific gold deposits to its network of funding through robust public markets for mining equities, gold mining has grown into one of Canada’s most important strengths. The discovery, development, and production of the precious metal will remain an essential pillar of Canada’s economy.

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