Combat space debris


ESS vision

Earth-Space Sustainability (ESS)

ESS is a research initiative founded in December 2020 aimed at using social science knowledge to tackle the dual-challenge of (1) outer space sustainability and (2) attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through new space based infrastructures. In so doing, ESS calls for a paradigmatic shift towards the notion of a sustainable Earth-Space relationship.


The idea of outer space sustainability has often been perceived as 'distant' to immediate challenges on Earth, such as climate emergencies. In the New Space age, the outer space environment will increasingly influence sustainability on Earth in ways beyond what most of us have realized. We are now witnessing the dawn of an era in which the sustainability of Earth and Space environments become more intertwined than ever.


Social sciences have spent decades of research on tackling Earth's sustainability challenges. Extending what we have learned so far into the space realm will better prepare us for the new kinds of challenges outer space might bring. An integrative perspective of Earth-Space sustainability could in turn inform us on new ways of managing the vulnerable planet we live on.


ESS aims to use evidence-based social science research to inform forward-looking policy scenarios. Informed by research on sustainability transitions, innovation systems, institutional theory, development economics and socio-ecological governance, ESS is using in-depth qualitative and quantitative methodologies to analyze complex Earth-Space sustainability challenges. Our research deals with upcoming challenges in the following three domains:

Developing an Earth-Space paradigm


What is beyond Anthropocentrism?

Extending planetary boundaries to outer space

Shaping a sustainable relationship


Peaceful use of outer space

Inclusive Earth-Space economy


Deploying space technologies to attain SDGs


Contributing to an emerging Earth-Space governance framework

Integrating social science research


Deriving strategic actionable policy insights

Image by NASA
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research on Earth-Space Sustainability

ESS currently focuses on the following areas concerning Earth-Space sustainability: peaceful use of outer space, inclusive and sustainable Earth-Space economy, and the attainment of SDGs through space based infrastructures. With that, ESS asks the following questions and seeks informed answers to help tackle these emerging challenges:

Peaceful use of outer space

How are space security challenges affecting sustainable development?

How can we move towards space disarmament?


What are the most critical challenges when it comes to space traffic management and clearing space debris?

Inclusive and sustainable 

Earth-Space economy

In the age of satellite megaconstellations, how can
we better distribute orbital resources like radio frequency?


How can we better manage who is doing what in an Earth-Space value chain?


How can we better manage new space based economic activities (e.g. in-orbit manufacturing and resource mining beyond Earth)?

Attainment of SDGs through space

How can we transform incumbent earth-
bound sectors towards greener paths through Earth observation systems?


How can satellite
megaconstellations bridge the great digital divide?

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exemplary case: satellite value chain

The satellite sector is booming and even more so in the coming decade. To ensure an
inclusive and sustainable use of space, we ask questions like Who own those satellites? Who built those satellites? Who launched the satellites into Earth’s orbit? Which orbit? Who have access to the satellite data?

Understanding the satellite value chain


More contents coming soon



ESS is looking for different expertise for synergistic collaborations. Together, we can be more informed.

Please reach out to us.

Dr. Xiao-Shan YAP

Earth-Space Sustainability

Environmental Social Scientist
Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology
Eawag, Switzerland

Guest Assistant Professor
Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development
Utrecht University, the Netherlands

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