BY DR GYAN PATHAK
As Earth’s orbits become crowded, there is a risk of Kessler Syndrome – a catastrophic and irreversible chain reaction of collisions in orbit
between debris and operational satellites – is getting high, albeit according to the latest projection from Merrill Lynch/Bank of
In America, the space economy would grow to $2.7 by 2040, while global commercial revenues would reach an estimated $271 billion
2020. Financial losses in Kessler Syndrome case were estimated at $191.3 billion.
As of September 2021, there were about 4500 operational satellites in Earth orbit and most are in low Earth orbits. More satellites
were launched in 2021 than in all of the previous decade, and tens of thousands of satellites are expected to be launched over the next decade
five years, says a recent OECD study entitled Earth’s Orbits at Risk: The Economics of Space Sustainability.
Space activities have become unprecedentedly high. The Starlink constellation had reached more than 1,700 operational satellites
Late 2021 and offered beta services to a variety of countries in Europe, North and South America, and Australia. Other operators, in
North America and China in particular also have many projects in the pipeline. In 2021, the Chinese government announced this
Development of a broadband constellation Guo Wang (“national network”) with 13,000 satellites. In the same year, the Korean defense company Hanwha
Systems released plans to develop a 2,000-satellite constellation to be completed by 2030.
It also caused a large accumulation of space debris. “Orbital debris has increased remarkably over the past 15 years, and socioeconomic
The impact of a major space debris accident could be dramatic due to cascading effects,” the OECD report warns. “The overwhelming concern
is that the orbital debris density reaches such a level that it triggers the so-called Kessler Syndrome.” In this case, “certain orbits with high value
become unusable, while debris concentrations could even block access to higher orbits.”
Space seems infinite. However, certain orbital regions around Earth are rapidly becoming overloaded in the last two years
For decades, the socio-economic importance of the space sector has increased as space products and services become more affordable
and versatile. By 2022, nearly 90 countries had operated a satellite in orbit at some point. Society’s dependence on space-based
Infrastructure grows with space technologies that support important societal functions such as communication, transportation and food
manufacturing and a range of government services including defense and weather forecasting.
Against this background, the loss of high-quality orbits would have a negative impact on several space-based services that are beneficial to society. That
Provision of weather forecasting, navigation services and climate monitoring, as well as important commercial activities such as
Telecom and satellite broadband could all be affected. The societal cost could be enormous, affecting all of society—even more so
so in regions with less developed terrestrial infrastructure and dependent on satellite services, the study warns.
In this scenario, we need stronger economic analysis of space sustainability and better space policies. OECD report
has highlighted a new assessment of the potential cost of space debris incidents and their impact. This report has been released
of the first phase and aims to expand this new research field and broaden the international knowledge base in the second phase in 2022.
Environmental economics provides a set of tools that can be used to analyze the impact of space debris on space sustainability
Activities, but a different analytical framework has been developed to understand the economic impact of space debris that draws on parallels
between the accumulation of space debris and other environmental problems. The research introduces methods for estimating cost categories
and benefits excluded from previous cost-benefit assessments of satellite projects.
While the huge loss in the Kessler Syndrome case is estimated at $191.3 billion, the report points to this large sum relative to the
Resources currently being used for debris mitigation and rehabilitation around the world. “Estimate of loss associated with excessive debris on Earth
Orbit in monetary terms suggests more resources should be devoted to debris clearance,” it says.
Even if the assessment of the value of space infrastructure suggests that the benefits of maintaining space activities are great because
a significant benefit arises from earth observation data, which in turn has a positive effect on the development of sales and employment
new services and products or access to new markets or sectors.
Satellite operators’ incentives to take action to reduce waste were evaluated by comparing their costs to potential
Damage in the event of a collision. Based on the estimated growth of space objects in low-Earth orbits, different mitigation scenarios with and
without active debris removal were also studied. Based on this cost-benefit assessment, the report found
Government intervention crucial.
Assessing commercial and public markets for active debris removal leaves room for an “active debris removal” business model.
Development. However, the business models are still immature. Therefore, such public intervention is required, which is flexible and conducive
diversified forms of public procurement, R&D support for companies and special government projects.
Companies have not yet internalized the impact of their choices on space debris and may continue harmful practices if the costs are not covered
so become unaffordable. To encourage businesses, the report suggests giving them incentives for debris removal programs
The first set of OECD results on the economics of space sustainability provides new thinking for decision makers about when
Formulating responses to the accumulation of space debris in Earth’s orbits. As space infrastructure generates value for society and
Supporting a wide range of economic activities, any loss or disruption of certain orbits could have a significant impact, several orders of magnitude
Order of magnitude higher than the cost of current remediation efforts. This must be taken into account when evaluating and comparing different ones
options for action. (