The cost of (Un)regulation: Shrinking Earth's orbits and the need for sustainable space governance

Darrell Martin-Lawson, Stefania Paladini, Krishnendu Saha, Erez Yerushalmi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)

Abstract

Outer space is infinite, usable planetary orbits are not. This makes the Earth?s orbit a unique case of an Area Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) complex to address, difficult to use in a sustainable and equitable way and almost intractable to regulate at an international level. As of 2023, we remain far from attaining a sustainable orbital environment, and future uses of the Earth's orbits for new satellite constellations appear now increasingly at risk. Adopting a probability-based empirical model to project the growth trajectory of objects in space, this article argues that the sector will cross a 'critical density' threshold within the upcoming years unless strong remedial actions to clear up the orbits are implemented and estimates the potential costs of active debris removal measures. Our findings suggest that orbital sustainability is unlikely to come from technology alone, no matter how advanced or ground-breaking. A long-term solution will necessarily require a radical rewriting of the outdated, often conflicting international regulatory framework, which contributed to creating this debris crisis in the first place, shrinking the Earth?s orbit to (almost) the point of no return.
Original languageEnglish
Article number119382
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Volume349
DOIs
Publication statusPublished (VoR) - 10 Nov 2023

Keywords

  • space sustainability
  • space debris
  • areas beyond national jurisdiction
  • active debris removal

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