That is the title of my latest work-in-progress, which I posted to SSRN over the weekend (see here). Below is the Introduction to my paper (footnotes omitted):
“Are there too many or too few satellites and spacecraft in outer space? What is the optimal number of spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit, for example? Currently, the number of satellites in orbit is 9,000. This number is likely to increase to more than 60,000 by 2030. This increase in space congestion is a cause for concern for three reasons: (i) greater space congestion can interfere with ground-based observations, (ii) space congestion can also generates greater amounts of orbital debris, and last but not least, (ii) an increase in orbital debris can increase the risk of a catastrophic collision in outer space. Some estimates show that there are already more than 100 trillion untracked pieces of old satellites circling the planet, so space congestion is a real problem.
“Space congestion thus threatens the sustainability of the commercial space industry in Low Earth Orbit, but in the absence of an effective method of shared governance, what is to prevent this domain from becoming another “tragedy of the commons,” to borrow Garrett Hardin’s haunting phrase? This paper contributes to the literature on outer space governance by presenting a Coasian solution to the problem of space congestion: orbit auctions. The remainder of this paper is thus organized as follows: Parts I and II will provide some relevant background information: Part I contains a taxonomy of spacecraft in orbit today, while Part II surveys the nature of the outer space problem: space congestion. Next, Part III compares and contrasts legal failure and market failure and identifies the main cause of the space congestion problem: the fact that outer space is an open-access commons under existing international law. Last, Part IV concludes by presenting a simple Coasian solution: space launch auctions or property rights in space orbits.”
I will be travelling to Santiago de Chile next week to meet some of my fellow Adam Smith scholars from South America and attend some workshops; in the meantime, I will have more to say about my proposed outer space auctions in the days ahead.