Thursday, September 01, 2011

Litter in Space: Free-Rider Problem of the Future?

From the AP:

Space junk has made such a mess of Earth's orbit that experts say we may need to finally think about cleaning it up.

That may mean vacuuming up debris with weird space technology - cosmic versions of nets, magnets and giant umbrellas, according to the chairman of an expert panel that issued a new report on the problem Thursday.

The immediate question which comes to mind is who should pay. One possibility is the original litter bugs. The AP story suggests that half of that is China. Another possibility is those who value a clean orbit in the future. After all, Earth's gravitational will presumably cause most of the litter to burn-up in the atmosphere, eventually. It seems like many of the industries dependent on satellites would be among the candidates willing to pay for a cleaner orbit in the nearer future, but the temptation to free ride would seem extraordinary. In time, it may prove more cost effective to produce satellites capable of deflecting the debris.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

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