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Open access to orbit and runaway space debris growth

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  • Akhil Rao
  • Giacomo Rondina

Abstract

As Earth's orbits fill with satellites and debris, debris-producing collisions between orbiting bodies become more likely. Runaway space debris growth, known as Kessler Syndrome, may render Earth's orbits unusable for centuries. We present a dynamic physico-economic model of Earth orbit use under rational expectations with endogenous collision risk and Kessler Syndrome. When satellites can be destroyed in collisions with debris and other satellites, the open-access equilibrium manifold allows for multiple steady states. When debris can collide to produce more debris, at least one steady state may be a tipping point and Kessler Syndrome can occur along equilibrium paths. We show open access is increasingly and inefficiently likely to cause Kessler Syndrome as satellites become more profitable. Calibrated simulations reveal Kessler Syndrome is expected to occur in low-Earth orbit around 2048 under recent historical sectoral growth trends, and may occur as early as 2035 if the space economy grows consistent with projections by major investment banks. These results highlight the urgent need for modeling and policy approaches which incorporate open access and positive feedbacks in debris growth.

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  • Akhil Rao & Giacomo Rondina, 2022. "Open access to orbit and runaway space debris growth," Papers 2202.07442, arXiv.org.
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:2202.07442
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    Cited by:

    1. Julien GUYOT & Akhil RAO & Sébastien ROUILLON, 2022. "The long-run economics of sustainable orbit use," Bordeaux Economics Working Papers 2022-13, Bordeaux School of Economics (BSE).

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