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Re^10: "Practices and Principles" to death

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Mar 05, 2008 at 04:56 UTC ( #672088=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Re^9: "Practices and Principles" to death
in thread "Practices and Principles" to death

How do you define an orbit for property purposes?
I'm sure there are many definitions. I'm also pretty sure that orbits are already defined in some fashion because there are thousands of satellites up there that (IIRC) have never collided in the 50 years we've been putting stuff up there. I'm pretty sure that a company devoted to registering orbits would come up with a pretty good way of describing them.
You are completely wrong about that. There is no overall coordination. Cooperation between any two countries will vary widely. For instance on space, the USA and Russia cooperate. The USA has absolutely no cooperation in space with China. The thousands of satellites have never collided simply because each has maneuvering capability and because space is a big enough place that they rarely come close to each other unintentionally.

Any thought to the contrary is wishful thinking on your part.

That there are important orbits that may have many things in them. (Geostationary orbit is the most notable example.)
Said company(s) would start their registries non-empty.
Considering the number of companies and governments that have satellites in geostationary orbit, and the economic importance of those satellites (ever heard of satellite TV?), ownership of geocentric orbit is very problematical. And even if you assigned ownership, if India (say) decided to put an unapproved satellite into geocentric orbit, what is the "owner" going to do about it?
That orbital mechanics are chaotic, so any object placed in orbit will eventually wind up in a different orbit.
Either that can be accounted for in a satellite without the ability to maneuver or maneuvering capability would be required.
You should assume that satellites have maneuvering capability. They invariably do because they need the capability to maneuver perfectly into their final orbit, and there is always some fuel left over. (Better too much than too little, if you run out and the satellite does not hit the right orbit, that's a failed launch.)

You should not take it as granted that it is always desirable for satellites to remain in one orbit. As I noted, one of the cheaper (and admittedly slower) ways to get to the Moon is through using the orbital chaos, which necessarily means going through lots of other orbits.

For each owner of an orbit, it is easier to just avoid stuff crossing your orbit than it is to clean that stuff up.
If you don't want to clean it up and feel you can avoid it, then great! I've gone without health insurance for months at a time in the past. Even though I was fine, I still pay through the nose right now for it. If I just paid M$50 to make a satellite and get it into the right orbit and I have B$20 in future revenues riding on it, I'll be willing to pay M$10 (or something in that range) to increase its chances of survival. It's almost like a company that pays for improvements in a CPAN module. The company is paying for the benefits they are reaping and costs are calculated from that perspective. That there is an improvement to a commonly-held property is good advertising.
The point that you just missed is that your attempt to avoid the tragedy of the commons by asserting property rights just failed horribly. Any specific piece of junk crosses many, many orbits. Many pieces of junk cross any particular orbit. Junk is individually easy to dodge, only needs to be dodged very rarely, but it is difficult to remove the junk. The result? Nobody will find it in their interest to ever remove any junk.
Also any attempt to clean up junk that is crossing one orbit is fairly likely to move it into someone else's orbit.
I think BrowserUk's solution would work quite nicely. With registration of lower orbits, that kind of work is pretty simple to time.
Clearly neither you nor BrowserUk studied physics. As my reply to him showed, his solution is untenable.
Even if you propose a solution to these problems, you have the bigger problem of how to agree on regulations that have to cover multiple countries. Do you really think that China or India is in any mood to accept a division imposed by the USA, Europe and Russia about who may use what parts of space? And what about the smaller powers? According to Wikipedia there are 45 countries with space agencies. Many, admittedly, do not launch their own satellites. But getting that many countries to agree on a complex legal system involving space is going to be very, very tricky.
What legal system? The only thing that even touches legalities is what courts to use for civil suits. Multinationals have been dealing with that issue since well before the East India Tea Company. Forum-shopping is a completely normal part of corporate law. If there's a crime on board a ship (or other space entity), you apply the provisions currently attaining to a crime at sea. That's worked well enough for hundreds of years. The key here is to avoid the nation-states and to appeal to the corporations. Yes, corporations are rapaciously greedy bastards that look out only for number 1. I can't think of many countries that don't qualify for that description.
The legal system that would be necessary to register and enforce any kind of private ownership of orbits. Particularly when there is nothing resembling a scarcity of orbits that are available, and there is no incentive for any country to pay attention to any other country.
I don't have all the answers off the top of my head. I do believe, very strongly, that all the issues you're raising are issues that are solvable by for-profit entities. And, frankly, solvable in better ways than nations could do so. In my eye, the "Tragedy of the Commons" is a for-profit opportunity to take the commons private for cheap, invest to improve it, then lease out usage. At least under private management, the commons wouldn't deteriorate because the owners have a motive to keep it in good shape.
Believe what you want.

For my part I believe, very strongly, that you are entirely and absolutely wrong on this subject. You have demonstrated complete ignorance of the relevant economic theory, physics, and international law affecting this matter. Instead you have a blind faith in the magic of private markets and no awareness of the well documented limitations of markets, nor the necessary role of governmental regulation in creating them.

This thread is a reminder to me that I should be careful about deciding whether to enter non-programming conversations on a programming website. Because it is frustrating trying to convince people of basic facts that they don't get because they lack the relevant background, and when they don't even realize that the relevant background is important to know. At least when discussing programming, people are more likely to have the background they need to understand the points which are made.

Comment on Re^10: "Practices and Principles" to death
Re^11: "Practices and Principles" to death
by chromatic (Archbishop) on Mar 05, 2008 at 05:59 UTC
    Because it is frustrating trying to convince people of basic facts that they don't get because they lack the relevant background...

    I'm sure that everyone involved in this conversation would be happy to look over any hyperlinks or reference information you could provide.

      The big point that he is missing is what a public good is, or what the failure modes of free markets are. I've already suggested reading the book The Logic of Collective Action. That would be a good start.

      If you read the book and disagree with it, any economist would be better than I for pointing out the supporting research. After you've come to accept the basic economic theory of public goods, come back to this thread, read my explanation of why not having near Earth space junk is a public good, and you'll instantly recognize that everything I said about why markets are unable to solve this problem is just basic economic theory.

Re^11: "Practices and Principles" to death
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Mar 05, 2008 at 15:28 UTC
    I have studied physics. Having lived in several countries, I have a reasonable appreciation for international law. Sure, my economic theory is a bit shaky, having only really studied Adam Smith. Yes, I am a hardcore libertarian and I make no bones about it. I have read up on the "well documented limitations of the markets" and, frankly, I am not convinced (more later). I have come to a grudging respect for the role of a strong court with the ability to enforce its decisions. I have also come to an appreciation for the economic creative power of a peaceful region that can predict conditions in the near- and medium-term futures.

    As for limitations of the market, please read and let me know if I'm missing any limitations. In lieu of that, I will assume that this is a reasonably complete list and move forward.

    The first skew in assumptions between your POV and mine is that you are discussing countries and I am discussing companies. They're not going to behave the same, so to extrapolate the behavior of corporations based on the existing behavior of countries is, imho, an exercise doomed to failure. Additionally, I am assuming that the majority of orbital things are going to be corporate-owned rather than nationally-owned. This is the underlying assumption to my entire chain of reasoning. Additionally, whenever I propose a set of numbers, please take that to be indicative of a concept, not as an actual hard proposal.

    Instead, I would argue that the behavior of corporations in existing similar markets should be examined. Such as, for instance, the ocean. There are thousands of ships, large and small, moving through the oceans on any given day. There are well-defined shipping lanes that didn't arise as a result of international law. They arose through the natural flow of the markets. (Yes, I did some research on this.) Mimicking that would be a good start (and, I suspect, is what has happened).

    The point behind the registry is that it's a claimstake. This idea arises out of the early settler days. If there was a problem between two people, the local circuit judge would come through and see who had the best claim (based on various criteria). His ruling would give the winner the right to shoot the loser for trespassing. Seems like a good plan to me. At worst, you get into a corporate war which the shareholders quickly shutdown as being bad for profits. (When was the last time a country stopped shooting at someone because it was bad for profits?)

    As for assuming space-stuff wants to stay in an orbit ... I don't mean to give the impression that I'm assuming that. Maybe it's better to talk about registering "flight plans" or somesuch. You go ahead and declare "My thing is going to describe this motion over the next 5/10/20 years." That can be an orbit, a Moonshot, a lunar orbit, or even "I'm going to trail the Earth by 1M miles." If you require an accuracy of 10km in these plans and give everyone a 5kmx5km box to live in, that should work pretty well. Doesn't give much response time for humans, but computers would be ok.

    It is difficult right now to remove junk. It was also really really difficult to store data on a disk in such a way as to retrieve it very quickly. The markets solved the latter problem and I am almost positive that, given sufficient pain, they will solve the former, too.

    Pain, as I see it, is the pain of people who have the purchasing power to get someone else to fix it. Yes, it sucks that minefields are in places where the residents cannot pay to fix it. When I have a billion dollars, I'll gladly help out. But, you'll notice that most of the people with the funds don't consider it to be a big problem. Very few companies consider it a problem worth attempting to solve. If that land was worth something, then it would be solved right quick. In other words, if the residents on that land found a way to make it worthwhile to clear, the mines would be cleared. Yes, it's a horrible thing to say, but it's the truth.

    I hope that I have demonstrated that I can continue to carry my side of this extremely fascinating conversation. I am more than willing to read any link you give me and continue researching on my own. But, as of yet, I have not seen any specific deficiencies in my arguments. You have said "DC doesn't understand the fundamentals." and left it at that. I'll gladly learn these fundamentals.

    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?
      You provided a link on market failures and then apparently didn't read your own link. Here is the description of an important type of market failure:

      A free market can work effectively only where the full benefits of goods and services go solely to the purchaser, and cannot be enjoyed free by anyone else who does not pay for them. Unless this condition is met, the producer cannot obtain payment for all the benefits he creates for others.

      Here is why that matters here. Any given piece of space junk is a minor inconvenience to any given satellite operator. After the junk has been removed, there is no way to charge everyone who benefits from that junk being removed. Having no junk in near Earth orbit is therefore a public good. It is extremely well documented that markets are very poor at provisioning public goods.

      This is the point about economics that I have been making over and over again. You keep on ignoring it. You keep on telling me that I just need to trust that the free market will work it out. You keep on telling me that corporations can figure things out. But it is utterly obvious to anyone who knows what a public good is that free markets can't solve this kind of problem.

      Until you demonstrate that you know what a public good is, and understand why I keep on saying that this is a problem with provisioning public goods, you are missing a truly fundamental point of extreme importance.

      About physics. If you have a physics background, then feel free to review my response to BrowserUk and review my evaluation of the solution he presented.

        It is extremely well documented that markets are very poor at provisioning public goods.

        Stonehenge has paid me on several occasions to make improvements to my CPAN modules and only that. They're not the only company to have done so. I know many other OSS authors who have been in that situation. FOSS is very obviously a public good. How would MySQL, RedHat, and other such companies exist without such a public good?

        The point that I keep making over and over that you are ignoring is that the direct benefit to the purchaser (their satellite not getting smashed) is so large that the cost is worth it, regardless of the inability to obtain full payment for the benefits created for others. Yes, this doesn't work in all cases. It works in this case.

        As for your evaluation of Buk's solution, I think you're wrong. By your admission, the slightest change in orbit can have great overall effect. So, if you were to approach at an angle of 0.1 degrees relative to the motion, you could probably put the debris into a spiral that, over a month or two, would lead it into the earth's atmosphere. You wouldn't have to have it in a ground-ward trajectory. All you need is one where you either bounce off the atmosphere and leave LEO or you burn up enough to keep it going downward. That glancing blow could be done with a parabolic deflector, kinda like a skater going through a half-pipe. Yeah, it would require exquisite timing and positioning. Sounds like a job for a computer, to me.

        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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