Space: the next to go

Looks like we narrowly missed by crunched by space debris the other night. Although, in true “tragedy of the commons” style “[a]stronauts routinely trash equipment in space.” So, as the world starts to think about trying to fix the mess we made of the ozone layer, we’re already on our way to trashing another part of the environment that’s common property.

I wonder if it’s actually cheaper to fill it with junk now and fix the problem later. Presumably the marginal cost of the cleanup will be lower when technology improves, and it’s discounted from the current perspective. However, since the problem is not the junk itself but the lack of property rights giving nobody an incentive to do anything, I doubt that calculation is being made by anyone.

  • I see some orbital catapault collecting and throwing the debris into the sun. Either that or we learn to live with space junk and sell re-entry debris on TradeMe if it lands on the patio. Imagine how much SkyLab would have got 🙂

  • moz

    The problem is not the junk in and of itself, the problem is when the junk hits things we care about. Even a low-speed collision with space junk can seriously screw up a working satellite, which is why junk is normally given a push that will see it hit atmosphere fairly soon. In low earth orbit it’s barely an issue because there’s enough drag to drop anything in a few years, so almost any random push will see a grazing orbit that decays rapidly.

    There are also a lot of non-equatorial satellites around that are outside the usual equatorial heights, but when mugs boost “dead” satellites they sometimes end up in the wrong place, where a collision is still unlikely but would be high-energy. Viz, you’d get a kinetic “explosion” and lots of debris.

    IMO the problem is exactly the opposite – we paid a fortune to lift that stuff up there, it makes no sense to discard it when it could be raw materials for future projects. The problem is the cost of keeping it up. I favour a bit net and a floating ball of junk.

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