Original Research - Special Collection: Theology and Nature

The dynamics of economic action and the problems of its social embedding – Ethical challenges in view of the nascent commercial use of outer space

Traugott Jaehnichen
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 1 | a5996 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i1.5996 | © 2020 Traugott Jaehnichen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 March 2020 | Published: 13 August 2020

About the author(s)

Traugott Jaehnichen, Chair of Protestant Social Ethics, Faculty of Protestant Theology, Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, Germany


As a result of the increasing economical exploitation of outer space, humanity faces a new challenge that, as well as having economic advantages, also entails a great many ecological hazards. At present, the human race is encroaching on outer space, particularly in the form of almost 5000 active satellites and the corresponding space debris they produce. For the large part, this debris burns up on entering the Earth’s atmosphere, yet time and again it still does cause damage. However, this could change dramatically if, as is now foreseeable, further uses of outer space, such as tourism, so-called satellite mega-constellations, regular transport flights to the moon or even Mars and the extraction of water and valuable rocks from celestial bodies, are expanded. There is a danger that ecological damage like that of the earlier phases of economic development will become externalised and ultimately pose a threat to the whole of humanity. Sautter’s ‘global “sustainability trilemma”’ remains unresolved. This trilemma consists in the fact that, in political resolutions, ‘the growth of resource-intensive prosperity is weighted far more highly than the conservation of functioning ecosystems and the implementation of inter- and intragenerational “justice”’ and that there are ‘up until now no efficient and ethically acceptable solutions’ for this problem. In this situation, it is therefore more important that rules for the sustainable use of outer space be established and enshrined as legally binding so that it becomes possible to minimise or even to preclude negative ecological consequences.

Contribution: Although the commercial use of outer space does not seem to be a crucial point, it marks a new step of the dynamics of modern economics that has to be identified as an important ethical challenge. The article discusses aspects of ethics, law, religion and economy in a multidisciplinary way.


Sustainable exploitation of outer space; Earth charter; Astro-ecology; Industrialisation of creation; Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA); Space X (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation); Satellite debris; UNOOSA


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