The tragedy of the outer space commons

Note: As I mentioned in my previous post, I will resume my review of Nozick next week; in the meantime, below is part two of my series of blog posts on the allocation of launch licenses by the FAA.

Are there too many satellites in outer space? Check out this April 2021 report in Scientific American, which identifies “a Space Age tragedy of the commons” — the problem of space congestion caused by a proliferation of low-Earth orbit satellites (see, for example, image below), a problem that “is now poised to get much worse because of the rise of satellite ‘mega constellations’ requiring thousands of spacecraft, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, a broadband Internet network.”

Likewise, according to this May 2021 report in the journal Nature, “Companies are placing satellites into orbit at an unprecedented frequency to build ‘mega-constellations’ of communications satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). In two years, the number of active and defunct satellites in LEO has increased by over 50%, to about 5000 (as of 30 March 2021).” As a result, the probability of a disastrous collision in outer space looms even larger as private companies Amazon, SpaceX, and others launch even more satellites into low-Earth orbit — Amazon’s Project Kuiper, for example, will create a mega constellation of up to 3,200 satellites in the near future.

So, what is to be done? Specifically, what is the most cost-effective way of responding to the problem of space congestion without jeopardizing the benefits of innovation, new technologies, and space exploration? Here is my modest proposal. Until a technological solution becomes feasible, why doesn’t the FAA — or any other space agency — auction off its launch licenses instead of giving away those licenses for free?

I will survey my proposed system of “launch auctions” in my next post …

U.S. Plans $6 Billion Investment in Space Situational Awareness - SpaceNews

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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2 Responses to The tragedy of the outer space commons

  1. Pingback: Year in Review (2021) | prior probability

  2. Pingback: Why not use auctions to allocate orbits in outer space? | prior probability

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