Tragedy of the Space Commons: A Market Mechanism Solution to the Space Debris Problem

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Space has become an invaluable resource to mankind. GPS technology, satellite television, weather forecasting and a national defense network are examples of the many modern technologies made possible by orbiting satellites and space technology. Unfortunately, the international treaty regime which governs space usage treats orbital space as an open-access, common property resource. As a common property resource, space is susceptible to suffering from a tragedy of the commons. The most immediate threat to the space resource is space debris. Created from a multitude of man-made sources, space debris orbits the earth with enough speed and momentum to damage or destroy any object in its path. In order to prevent space debris from rendering this important resource useless, it is necessary to alter the legal regime so that space is no longer a common property resource. This Note proposes that, in light of the peculiar characteristics of orbital space, a regulatory scheme based on market mechanisms is the best method to control the level of space debris introduced into orbit and thereby preserve the resource for ages to come.