by Nathan Barton
Look out! Duck! One of my favorite short stories back in the late 1960s involved confrontation between Soviet and American occupation forces on Luna, who discovered that firing large numbers of projectiles in very thin atmosphere and low gravity was NOT a good idea, because “what goes around comes around.” I don’t know whether the math really supported the story, but it was thought provoking.
Which is something that we need to do now: give a wee bit of thought to what we throw up, that doesn’t immediately come down. GeekWire reported that SpaceX has filed FCC application for an Internet access network with 4,425 satellites: “SpaceX has laid out further details about a 4,425-satellite communications network that’s expected to provide global broadband internet access, with its Seattle-area office playing a key role in its development. The plan is explained in an application and supporting documents filed on Tuesday with the Federal Communications Commission. SpaceX is only one of several ventures aiming to deploy satellite-based internet services over the next few years. The others include OneWeb, a consortium with backing from Airbus, Virgin Galactic and other telecom players; and the Boeing Co., which envisions a low-Earth-orbit constellation with more than 1,000 satellites.”
Now, I am hardly one to complain about good internet access (broad bandwidth, high transfer speeds in BOTH directions) because I do without so often, and because availability has always been a big factor on where I live and work. But we are in an era where society as a whole is unable to understand the cumulative impact – even though we have dozens of laws requiring that be done – where instead of allowing the mechanism of the free market to regulate matters, government (and its allies) attempt to dictate from “above” what is needed.
The entire problem is that the world – especially the man-made part of it (or “man-modified” part), and society are getting more and more complicated. And government was not able to control their part of the world and society when it was a whole lot LESS complicated than it is right now.
Just as the tragedy of the commons has been displayed time and time again on the earth’s surface and in its oceans, I fear that we will see the same thing happen in space. Near-earth orbit is a limited resource. Government will not be able to regulate or administer it or “ensure” its proper use any more than it has done on Earth’s seas, in national parks and forests, or the airspace of the planet.
Ultimately, it will be private business, either in competition with each other or through some sort of volunteer, cooperative effort, that will clean up the spaceways. But that may be only after the proliferation of space junk, however well-intentioned, has made the orbits uninhabitable.
Mama’s Note: There could be “space junk derby” events, where private spaceships carry out commissioned destruction or reclamation of old, no longer useful satellites. Could be quite a light show at night. Someone might build a space station out there for the purpose of refurbishing them, or recycling useful parts anyway. The possibilities are endless if driven by the free market.