Is Space a Common Good?
Originally written for Space- The Next Frontier? Debating Security Plus @ the Friends of Europe
By Amara Graps, Baltics in Space
Imagine a near-future, Summer 2020 in Finland. The night is short inside of a warm, short-sleeve-shirt night. While you are sharing your stellar-constellations knowledge with your ten-year-old daughter, a train of lights flicker across the night sky .
"What are those lights, mom?"
As you adjust your night vision to catch the light-train, another pattern of lights appear: ‘PEPSI : For the Love of It ‘. Six seconds later, the billboard lights fade, just in time for another light train to cross the stars, slightly below the previous.
Welcome to 2020, when dark skies are a concept of the past.
Humans today, in mid-2019, are at a decision crossroad to determine the ownership of the space above their heads.
Is space a common good? For whom? Time is running quickly. If humans neglect to address this question, then that space will naturally be dominated by private interests.
The commodification of the night sky to today: mid-2019, was a quiet process. Humans interested in private space were tracking the successes of the flashiest space company: SpaceX, applauding the launch of the Tesla Roadster and each rocket booster return.
It wasn’t until the the 23rd May 2019 launch of SpaceX’s 60 Starlink satellites that the rest of the world woke up.
Telecommunications had accidentally become Space Art.
In our wonder at this brave new world, we’ve discovered that artists and industry have funded business plans to mark up the night sky. Russia’s StartRocket’s “Orbital Display” USA’s Rocket Lab’s the “Humanity Star” (launched January 2018), and ALE’’s first “Sky Canvas” satellite (to be launched mid-summer 2019) are funded for space advertisements.
“We are developing a new medium”, said Alexey Skorupsky, StartRocket team member.
“Using space as our stage, we will constantly strive to bring to life new levels of entertainment, “ say the ALE Co.’s web advertisement.
“We are targeting the whole world, as our stockpile of shooting stars will be in space and can be delivered across the world,” ALE chief executive Lena Okajima told reporters.
Meanwhile the telecommunications efforts in space are growing. The Starlink network is projected to be complete in the mid-2020s with 12,000 satellites ; it will provide high-speed (1 Gbps) Internet around the globe. Plus, Starlink is not the only project planned to address global Internet from space. Other satellite constellations are in the pipeline, prompting policy makers to discuss legal frameworks. While the goal of the telecommunications satellites is not to "mark the sky," their accidental, sky-effects in visible and radio frequencies are serious, with the planned number of satellites outnumbering the visible stars. Serious enough for public statements by the International Astronomical Union:
International Astronomical Union (IAU) expressing our concern over #SatelliteConstellations: @elonmusk 's #starlink @IridiumComm @oneweb @Globalstar @amazon 's #ProjectKuiper @facebook 's #Athena on Twitter
The good news is that the space industry is listening. SpaceX has demonstrated a willingness to talk and find solutions, where raising the satellite orbits to higher altitude is one solution:
“Also, please note that the observability of the Starlink satellites is dramatically reduced as they raise orbit to greater distance and orient themselves with the phased array antennas toward Earth and their solar arrays behind the body of the satellite.””
To the public, I would ask: What thoughts would you like to say to the private space and entertainment industry about their use of the night sky?