Space debris (or space waste) is a term that refers to the human-made objects which orbit the Earth but are not currently in use (e.g. defective or obsolete satellites or spacecraft debris). Given that those items remain firm and more are accumulated over time, dealing with space waste is a matter of urgency as collisions between orbiting items pose a high risk.
At this time, there are more than 20,000 space objects that orbit the planet and, according to experts, companies are willing to launch even more in the future without considering their adverse impact.
Some have expressed the opinion that the better solution to tackle the problem is to collect or sent out of orbit the deficient satellites or parts. However, a new study, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the best solution is to charge the owners for every satellite that is in orbit. This would both benefit the space industry and mitigate irrepressible satellite launching. “We need a policy that lets satellite operators directly factor in the costs their launches impose on other operators,” Matthew Burgess, co-author of the study, an Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies and an affiliated faculty member in Economics at the University of Colorado Boulder, stated.
The authors of the study recommend applying an orbit fee for every satellite whether it is functional or not. The fees would be correlated with the specific orbit that the satellite will acquire since different orbits have different collision risks, a fact that is not taken into consideration in the current launching design. “In our model, what matters is that satellite operators are paying the cost of the collision risk imposed on other operators,” Daniel Kaffine, co-author of the study and a Professor of Economics and RASEI Fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder, said.
In order for this approach to work, the research team emphasizes that all countries that launch or own satellites must support the endeavor and charge the same fees depending on the satellite collision risk as mentioned above. It is not an unprecedented scheme since many countries utilize similar strategies for climate change projects and fishing industry.
Scientists stated that if their concept is implemented, the satellite industry would experience a stunning economic growth that would quintuple its current value by 2040. This growth would derive from the collision costs and the fact that the total crashes would be highly reduced.
Regarding the amount of the fees applied, researchers suggest an escalating cost that would reach about $235,000 per spaceship annually within the next 20 years.
Source: University of Colorado Boulder