Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

Cunningham presents on space debris at Nextspace conference

Published on January 21, 2022

Cunningham presents on space debris at Nextspace conference

Picture of Earth and space debris.

Brendan Cunningham, professor of economics at Eastern Connecticut State University, presented at the annual Nextspace conference this past December. The seminar, which took place in Bordeaux, France, allowed scholars across the globe to present their research surrounding topics of space.

Brendan Cunningham, professor of economics.
Brendan Cunningham, professor of economics

Cunningham, who specializes in economic research pertaining to space, media and satellites, presented his collaborative work focused on the ongoing issue of space debris. His work has been supported by Eastern and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of Connecticut Space Grant Consortium. 

Due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, France was placed on a "Do Not Travel" list by the United States, causing Cunningham to present virtually, rather than in person.

In his presentation, Cunningham discussed a variety of topics, including space’s status as a “common” and the implications of that title; debris in space and its impact globally, including the damage it has on satellites; and the costs of monitoring the debris that may harm satellites and other international belongings.

“For economists, commons have two properties. The first is the resource has to be non-excludable, which means no one can prevent anyone else from using it,” explained Cunningham. “The second (property) is the resource has to be rivalrous, which means that one person's use of the resource has a potential impact on the enjoyment of that resource by others.”

When discussing the dangers of space debris, and the costs that occur in monitoring debris, Cunningham presented two categories of solutions: informal and reactive, and preventative. Informal and reactive solutions, such as guidelines and abatement, have been used for decades, said Cunningham. However, preventative responses, such as a launch tax or an orbital use fee, could be implemented internationally to ease some implications of space debris.

“What we’re currently doing is not going to continue to work,” said Cunningham. “Another thing we need to be cognizant of is the fact that climate research relies a great deal upon data from satellites. When we put orbital space at risk, we are also putting our climate science research at risk. There is nothing more important than understanding what is happending with our climate, and how we can address climate change.”

Written by Molly Boucher