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Re^4: "Practices and Principles" to death

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Mar 01, 2008 at 04:00 UTC ( #671335=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to Re^3: "Practices and Principles" to death
in thread "Practices and Principles" to death

Right now something like 30% of the space junk up there comes from one Chinese satellite getting into a collision. We have at the moment no workable ideas for how to get that debris down other than wait a few centuries. And since it is traveling over 10,000 miles per hour, blasting it into smithereens just results in too much sand to track, but even a single grain of the stuff is potentially lethal.

Before I'd support your approach, I'd want to see answers to how we plan to get rid of the debris from one collision. After that I'd like to see a plan to handle the potential problems from a careless company cutting corners and having a few more space accidents. And before you wave the free market magic wand, with known techniques it takes a lot of work to get a single flying screw down. How do we supply a profit motive to reward private enterprise for that work?

It is always easy to say, "Oh the market will take care of it." But markets don't work very well for certain kinds of problems, and dealing with litter in near space seems to be one of those problems.

And for the record I'd love to see a solution to it. Because until we can come up with a solution, I don't think we're going to successfully colonize near space. (The ultimate solution may be to be very, very careful with near space and instead leapfrog human colonization out of low Earth orbit.)


Comment on Re^4: "Practices and Principles" to death
Re^5: "Practices and Principles" to death
by shmem (Canon) on Mar 01, 2008 at 11:25 UTC
    Before I'd support your approach, I'd want to see answers to how we plan to get rid of the debris from one collision. After that I'd like to see a plan to handle the potential problems from a careless company cutting corners and having a few more space accidents. And before you wave the free market magic wand, with known techniques it takes a lot of work to get a single flying screw down. How do we supply a profit motive to reward private enterprise for that work?

    So true... doesn't work on the ground (yet), so why should it in near space? Just changing a few words...

    Before I'd support your approach, I'd want to see answers to how we plan to get rid of the land mines, cluster bombs and depleted uranium from one war. After that I'd like to see a plan to handle the potential problems from a careless country cutting corners and dispersing their toxic nuclear waste by way of uranium bombshells. And before you wave the free market magic wand, with known techniques it takes a lot of work to get a single land mine defused. How do we supply a profit motive to reward private enterprise for that work?

    Pretty much to do here, yet, to be dreaming of near space occupation...

    Update: It hasn't been a collision, they blew up one of their satellites.

    --shmem

    _($_=" "x(1<<5)."?\n".q·/)Oo.  G°\        /
                                  /\_¯/(q    /
    ----------------------------  \__(m.====·.(_("always off the crowd"))."·
    ");sub _{s./.($e="'Itrs `mnsgdq Gdbj O`qkdq")=~y/"-y/#-z/;$e.e && print}
      There are more than enough human beings around to spend a little effort on all those things at the same time.
        ...and there are more than enough human beings around to spoil the tidings before they are complete.
      I never said it was an accidental collision.

      I don't know the details of the device used, but in general in space there is no need to explode anything. Just kinetic energy from hitting it that fast is enough for total destruction. For instance the recent US effort to destroy their aging spy satellite did not use an explosive, they just ran a rocket into the satellite.

      At the worst you might explode the missile very, very gently before impact to guarantee multiple impacts. I have no idea whether China did that, or just collided them. I assume collided.

        How does one 'explode' anything 'very, very gently'?

        For what it's worth, you're exactly right...nothing has to 'explode'. It really is all kinetic energy...the closing velocity between two objects at the altitudes discussed are about 14 km/sec (or a little under 14 miles/sec).

        About 15 years ago I was associated with a project to test hypervelocity impacts on the ground...by hypervelocity we meant velocities in excess of about 2 km/sec...which was the most we could create with very specialized devices called rail-guns (which were electromagnetic accelerators that could fire a small piece of steal (about the size of a thimble, but solid rather than hollow like a thimble) by a long series of elecromagnets that would successively accelerate the thimble faster and faster). They fired it into an embankment of heavy clay dirt...to see what it would do (seems like the old saying 'The difference between boys and men are the cost of their toys').

        It basically left a crater about the equivalent of 50 to 60 feet across and about 10 to 15 feet deep...from a heavy thimble!

        Another annecdote is the infamous (well...infamous in my business) paint fleck (about 2 mm square and about a few thounsands of an inch thick) that struck one of the space Shuttle's forward windows. Those windows are about 4-6 inches thick specially made glass-like material. The collision, estimated at about 4-5 km/sec gouged out a crater about 1/2 way through the window and was about 4-5 inches across at the surface of the window.

        At 14 km/sec...the collision doesn't just vaporize most of the matter...it actually creates an ionized plasma out of much of the matter. The rest is varying degrees of dust and debris of a surprisingly large variety of shapes and sizes.

        So 'explosions' are of no particular value...the kinetic energy of the collision is plenty.

        ack Albuquerque, NM
Re^5: "Practices and Principles" to death
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Mar 02, 2008 at 02:41 UTC
    I do not have the experience to solve the problem myself. If I did, I'd be starting a company to do that and not a company that writes software.

    I do, however, have a good idea as to why someone would want to solve the problem. First, assumptions.

    • Putting stuff in orbit is a very profitable goal.
    • A mechanism for putting a kilo into orbit that is below $100. (Costs can run up to $22,000/kilo1.)
    Once you have both of those, then you have the need to clean up what's there for the very reasons you gave2. The cost for this kind of thing now comes under the heading of insurance or paying for police protection. It's just now a cost of doing business and you want to pay one of the 2-3 companies that make it their business to keep the lanes clean.

    As for markets not working well for certain problems, I would submit that they actually work exceedingly well. We just may not like why they aren't doing anything about the problem. For example, shmem brings up landmines in a reply down the thread. If there was a significant number of landmines around 10+ major US cities, there would be dozens of companies, large and small, competing to clear them. Given competition, the costs of removing a landmine would drop from $300-$10003 to, probably, something closer to $10-$50/mine. The problem right now is that there is no financial incentive to remove the mines. All the mines are in places that have no value. Yes, that sucks, but that's what the markets are saying. Otherwise, the mines would have been removed by now. The markets abhor a void. Removing space debris, on the other hand, has a lot of financial benefit.

    1. http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itsv/0108/ijse/dipasquale.htm
    2. Theoretically, a shield might be invented that can protect a satellite from anything, but so might Star-Trek teleporters. You're welcome to hold your breath.
    3. http://www.mech.uwa.edu.au/jpt/demining/info/probs-solns.html

    My criteria for good software:
    1. Does it work?
    2. Can someone else come in, make a change, and be reasonably certain no bugs were introduced?
      Submit all you want that markets work exceedingly well. Economic theory says otherwise. In particular look at the well-known phenomena of the tragedy of the commons. Or more specifically read the classic but far from dated text, The Logic of Collective Action.

      That applies in spades to space. You see, cleaning up one piece of space junk does very little for helping the overall problem. The cost of cleaning it up is born by the organization that does it. The benefit is shared by all organizations in space. Thus even if the overall benefit makes cleanup worthwhile, cleanup is generally not worthwhile for whoever does it.

      This is not always an insurmountable problem. For instance in many cases (eg environmental protection or maintaining fish stocks) governments have been able to solve the problem by creating artificial regulations that reduce externalities and create incentives that align the free market with the common good. Of course no country has the ability to impose such a solution on space.

      A second common solution is what The Logic of Collective Action calls exploitation of the large by the small. In this situation a single actor, in the case of space probably the USA, gets sufficient benefit from acting in the common good that they will unilaterally do it. And, of course, once that organization does it, the others don't have to. US military policy is a fairly good example of this, as long as the USA is willing to patrol the world, international security is good enough that smaller countries, such as ones in Europe, do not bother to do the same. Nor do they contribute substantially to help the USA. (And, of course, they resent the USA for acting in ways that they don't like, and the USA resents them for not helping. This solution is a recipe for resentment.)

      The third common solution is that a small group can find it worthwhile to cooperate. However the dynamics get very complicated - it is in the group's interest that the task actually be accomplished, but it is in every member's interest that they personally do as little as possible. A classic example of this is provided by OPEC, and the history of agreements within OPEC and their partial enforcement is a testament to how complicated the dynamics get.

      In any case there is substantial economic theory on this exact problem. That theory says very clearly that near Earth space junk is a problem that markets are poor at solving. In addition the simple physics of of the situation make solving the problem very, very difficult. And nobody has come up with any good proposals for how to solve it.

        My example may have been misleading. I don't say that a company should clean all of the space in LEO or any EO, for that matter. If a company is planning on putting up satellites in a given area, I suspect they would be willing to pay some other company to clean it first. This is no different (in theory) than getting a cleaning company to come shampoo the rugs before you move into an apartment.

        This, of course, assumes that someone can go ahead and purchase an orbit and location on said orbit. I think that would make a lot of sense. Maybe a Verisign-like entity would take registration of expected orbits. You would be paying for the listing that you have claimed that orbit+location. If you deviate, you could be sued by the people whose orbit+location you violated. This entity would take an application and say "You can(not) have it." Nothing needs said about why or who else is there, thus preserving privacy.

        If you wanted to wildcat, you'd be welcome to do so. But, if enough "legitimate" players used this registration system, then the courts would serve as a sufficient deterrent through civil suits. Particularly if the precedent was set that you could destroy anything that got into your orbit+location (so long as you cleaned up after yourself, of course, with precedent set for that, too).

        I believe this avoids the tragedy of the commons. Comments?


        My criteria for good software:
        1. Does it work?
        2. Can someone else come in, make a change, and be reasonably certain no bugs were introduced?

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