Researchers say that the most effective way to solve the space junk problem is not to capture debris or deorbit old satellites: it's an international agreement to charge operators "orbital-use fees" for every satellite put into orbit.
Space is getting crowded. Aging satellites and space debris crowd low-Earth orbit, and launching new satellites adds to the collision risk.
Orbital use fees would also increase the long-run value of the space industry. By reducing future satellite and debris collision risk, an annual fee rising to about $235,000 per satellite would quadruple the value of the satellite industry by 2040.
Orbital-use fees could be straight-up fees or tradeable permits, and they could also be orbit-specific, since satellites in different orbits produce varying collision risks.
Currently, an estimated 20,000 objects, including satellites and space debris, are crowding low-Earth orbit. Each operator launches more and more satellites until their private collision risk equals the value of the orbiting satellite.
Technological fixes include removing space debris from orbit with nets, harpoons, or lasers. De-orbiting a satellite at the end of its life is a managerial fix.
Removing space debris might motivate operators to launch more satellites, further crowding low-Earth orbit, increasing collision risk, and raising costs.
With orbital-use fees, the long-run value of the satellite industry would increase from around $600 billion under the business-as-usual scenario to around $3 trillion, researchers found. The increase in value comes from reducing collisions and collision-related costs, such as launching replacement satellites.
Space junk or debris is a term for defunct human-made objects in space, principally in Earth orbit, which no longer serve a useful function. This can include non-functional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris and fragmentation debris.