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Polycentric Governance of Space Debris: Further Thoughts

I seem to have an unstoppable logorrhea that this blog must satiate now that I’m off Twitter. Don’t get used to it, the posting frequency will certainly drop over time. But right now, I want to try a mixture of open science and personal note-taking.

As indicated in yesterday’s post, I participated in a panel discussion on the governance of space debris. From the discussion, I have several thoughts stuck in my head that I want to write down here to get rid of them for the moment while preserving them in some fashion, so I can refer back to them once I finally get around to revising the paper for publication. So, in no particular order:

  1. There is still great uncertainty about the carrying capacity of Low-Earth Orbit. One team of researchers argued that without debris removal, Kessler syndrome is inevitable, but I’m not sure whether their model adequately considers the „natural clean-up“ of lower orbital bands through atmospheric drag. I’m also reminded of some comments by ESA/ESOC specialists a few years who argued that mitigation (e.g. end-of-life deorbiting of satellites) is the real game-changer, while debris removal will only have a marginal impact.
  2. I stumbled across the work of Jean-Frédéric Morin and his team whose work on „Astro-Environmentalism“ seems really interesting. I have yet to see whether we agree on what polycentricity means but I’m excited about his project of a Governance of Space Debris Index.
  3. Ostromian commons management is very big on involving local-level actors in decision-making. But what does this kind of subsidiarity mean for space? The local level is easy to identfy when it comes to irrigation systems or fish stocks – it refers to small-scale fisheries and farmers who work local plots. But who is the „local level“ when it comes to Low-Earth Orbit? The small-scale satellite operators? I have previously though so, but maybe the parallel doesn’t quite work, because these operators share the orbital bands with the SpaceX’s and other bigger fish.
  4. Eytan Tepper distinguished between cooperation and coordination in governing orbit. While cooperation requires deliberation and joint action, coordination merely requires that actors take the actions of other into account, which is a very useful distinction. The question then become how we facilitate the exchange of information and improve transparency to make low-level collaboration easier.

 

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