“Earth’s Orbits at Risk”, 2022 OECD report on the Economics of Space Sustainability [Apr/2023]
In 2019, the OECD Space Forum launched a project on space sustainability, and in particular the economics of space debris. The project led to a first OECD policy paper “Space sustainability: The economics of space debris in perspective” in 2020, which outlined both the problem and a research agenda.
Published end of 2022, the report “Earth’s Orbits at Risk” presents the findings of this first research phase, building on the contributions of several academic actors who provided new evidence on the economics of space sustainability.
The publication highlights the risk of a partial stop in space activities due to the excessive presence of orbital debris. Space debris not only have the potential to render certain high value orbits unusable, but a high debris concentration could even block access to higher orbits. Negative economic effect would be experienced throughout the global space value chain as well as non-space sectors. In order to provide policymakers with information to effectively compare options for actions, the OECD and partners assessed the potential costs of space debris incidents, estimating the value of space infrastructure and comparing the economic effects of different policy options.
The publication displays multiple research topics around space sustainability, including:
- Space sustainability as the next major societal challenge;
- An environmental economics framework for measuring the cost of space debris;
- Identifying the costs caused by an irreversible deterioration of the orbital regimes;
- Socio-economic benefits of earth observation: Insights from forms in Italy;
- Economic theory applied to space debris scenarios;
- On the emergence of an active debris removal market;
- Estimation of the cost and benefits of debris mitigation;
- An efficient analysis of space launch activities.
One highlight of the report includes a comprehensive study on “Identifying the costs caused by an irreversible deterioration of the orbital regimes”, exploring the consequences of a partial stop in space activities due to the excessive presence of orbital debris. The research was conducted by the Polytechnic University of Bari in Italy and EUMETSAT, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. It focusses on the expected value at risk in each orbit, estimating the dependency rate of economic sectors on space activities and combining it with the global Gross Value-Added of several sectors (present and future values, based on OECD growth forecasts). The study then differentiates spacecrafts and their dependency by orbit (100 km each, only LEO) leading to a value for each orbit. Calculating the collision probability for each orbit resulted in a $191 billion total expected value at risk for LEO.
The full OECD report can be found here.