Socio-Technical Analysis of the Space Surveillance Network
MIT Aero/Astro Engineering
Last modified: May 31, 2007
Introduction: The design and analysis of modern engineering systems must account for both social and technical complexity. Often, the technical and social domains are considered in isolation of one another, preventing the engineer from understanding the more important dynamics of complex engineering systems.
Approach: We present a unified model of the space surveillance network (SSN), a complex engineering system, which is widely regarded as one of the most effective approaches to mitigate the long-term risks associated with space debris in geo-stationary orbit. As the US and her allies continue to develop the space situational awareness mission area, socio-technical questions arise as to how stakeholders should act to mitigate the effects of resident space objects and how our understanding of the physics of the space environment inform the architectural change of the SSN. Through the use of game-theoretic cooperation archetypes and System Dynamics modeling, possible futures are explored. SSN architectural improvements are offered to improve mission effectiveness. Finally, implications for the discipline of Engineering Systems are elucidated.
Results: A space debris impact event is a high-consequence, low-probability occurrence with the potential to cause debris cascades. Given the nature of orbital space as a commons problem, results indicate a need for transparency between stakeholders in the space surveillance process. From the standpoint of asset preservation, sharing space surveillance sensing capacity is a win-win scenario -- sharing distributes the costs of debris sensing with no dilution in benefit. National security considerations drive the need for a tradeoff between this apparent win-win and native capacity.