Session 15 Abstracts

Practical ethical considerations in Space Traffic Management and access to space

  • Thomas Cullum
  • Trevor Sandlin
  • Patrick Neumann
  • Thomas Green
A diagram of space objects in orbit around earth.

Thomas Cullum


Trevor Sandlin

Unlimited Tonnage Master, United States Merchant Marine

Patrick Neumann

Neumann Space Thomas Green UoW

Recent attention has been paid to the burgeoning new-space sector thanks in part to activities of celebrity billionaires, such as the February 2018 launch of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster as part of the Falcon 9 Heavy mass simulation; as well as the more recent high-altitude flight of Virgin’s Richard Branson, and the sub-orbital flight of founder Jeff Bezos. These recent stories have generated public discourse on the ethical and socio-political divide regarding space activities and access to space generally, such as by Australian National University philosophers Ben Bamble and Seth Lazar. 

However, ethical considerations are not reserved to high-flying billionaire space enthusiasts alone. This paper will consider other ethical considerations that pose clear and immediate concerns as well as future issues for space activities and access to space. Namely, this paper will consider what is dubbed ‘propellant liability’ faced by satellite operators in determining which satellite is liable to discharge propellant to effectively change altitude where a collision is imminent; as well as the challenges of determining ‘axial shift’ liabilities where satellites may be placed in less-favourable orbits, thereby favouring specific nations or industries over others in terms of access to space. 

In addition to this, this paper will also consider the ethical challenges faced in ensuring noncommercial uses of space remain preserved as part of the NewSpace landscape. These priority uses would include weather satellites, synthetic radar aperture, and light exposure for astronomy observations, ensuring that an ethical framework is introduced as part of a space traffic management strategy to ensure that these activities remain ongoing.

Thomas Cullum is a mechatronics engineer and finalist for the Australian Space Awards Engineer of the Year category for 2020. Thomas received his bachelor’s of engineering from the University of Adelaide prior to designing space-rated circuit boards, and module design for the ESA Bartolomeo Module on the ISS. Thomas has also presented and published research for the International Astronautical Congress 2020 on the use of low earth orbit and risks of congestions from satellite constellations without improved space traffic management strategies.

Trevor Sandlin is an Unlimited Tonnage Master, United States Merchant Marine currently serving as A/Captain onboard USNS Mercy during the course of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Trevor’s background is in maritime navigation and he has previously presented on space traffic management and emerging issues regarding the use of the space environment for increased commercial activities. 

Patrick Neumann is an inventor and founder of Neumann Space who has received the Lawrence Sperry Award for his contribution to the space sector. He received his PhD from the University of Sydney, and currently serves on the executive for the AIAA chapter in Adelaide and the AIAA Electric Propulsion Technical Committee. Patrick has published extensively on emerging technical and policy issues facing the space sector, such as access and use of Lagrange points, management of satellite constellations in low earth orbit, and management of space weather and emergency management relevant to Carrington Events.