Economists proposed to solve the problem of space debris with a tax on the use of the orbit. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers showed that the charge for a conclusion of satellites in space will encourage satellite operators to compare the cost of apparatus with risk of collision that they generate, and the damage to the industry.
Today around the planet are turning about 5.5 thousand satellites, but in working condition is only half of them. Other objects and space debris that gradually accumulates in orbit around the earth and sometimes facing each other, giving rise to numerous debris posing a threat for future launches. At the same time, despite the fact that many companies are working on plans to clean up near-earth space, reliable methods for removing space debris from orbit does not yet exist. The main strategies involve either the output of the failed satellites from orbit with subsequent combustion in the atmosphere, or the creation of satellites-cleaners who will collect existing debris. However, none of the approaches solves the problem of the costs that satellite operators impose on each other, launching new satellites into space and increasing the risks of collisions.
Economist Akhil RAO (Akhil Rao) from Middlebury College, along with colleagues proposed to adjust the risk and damage to industry through international taxes on the use of the orbit. In this paper the researchers make the analogy to egoisci tax, which is imposed on any market activity that generates negative effects. To check how successful is this solution, the researchers built a physical-economic model. They considered two scenarios — “business as usual” (i.e. the waste is not excreted in the orbit), and active cleaning of near-earth space and, starting from the total cost of the satellite industry, calculated what effect will have the implementation of an agreed fee for the use of the orbit in both cases.
The transition to the private access to space will increase the cost of the satellite industry in 2020 from $ 600 billion to around $ 3 trillion, that is more than 4 times, even if the debris will be removed from orbit. The optimal size of the tax on the use of the satellite’s orbit, according to the estimations, in 2020 begins with 14,9 thousand dollars a year, and every year it should increase by 14 percent, peaking in 2040 235 thousand dollars. If the fee for the use of the orbit will not be introduced, even when removing half of the debris from the middle of outer space that will help to restore only 9.5 percent of the losses for the industry.
However, in order for this approach to work, economists say, the initiative should involve all countries that launch satellites. In addition, each of them will have to charge the same fee (but the income they will be able to get separately) — the same applies, for example, a tax on carbon. Fees, according to the group of UES may be charged directly or indirectly, for example issued by the satellite operators permission. They can also depend on the orbit, because the satellites are on different orbits create different risks of collision. However, the most important thing is that the fee for each satellite will be calculated taking into account the cost of the industry at the conclusion of another satellite into orbit, including projected current and future costs.
The study also showed that the fee for the use of the orbit will force operators to directly compare the expected cost of its satellites with the costs to industry at the conclusion of another satellite into orbit and create additional risks. In the case that the space debris problem will be solved only by technological methods, operators will still have an incentive to participate in the space race, hoping to obtain some profit before the near-earth space will become too “overcrowded”.
Modern projects for cleaning the Earth’s orbit from space debris includes garbage collection of the European space Agency, the satellites with an adhesive layer for adhering debris and electrodynamic traps to slow down the speed of flight of the debris. Read more about the space debris problem and possible ways of dealing with it, read our article “Trash zone”.