Application of Ostrom’s Principles for Sustainable Governance of Common-Pool Resources to Near-Earth Orbit

Near-Earth orbit is a key global resource, hosting assets critical to governments, militaries and commercial entities and providing services for global communications, remote sensing, national and international security, and accurate positioning and timing. It is also an increasingly crowded, congested and contested environment, at risk from both intentional and unintentional activities and events, and threats natural and human-made. Ensuring the long-term sustainability of the space environment is an increasingly recognized need by all users of space. This article considers the viability of principles regarding sustainable common-pool resources (CPRs) established by Elinor Ostrom for space governance. In this initial consideration, we focus specifically on the issues of boundaries, collective choice arrangements and monitoring. Within those contexts, Ostrom’s principles appear most useful for identifying gaps in the current space governance system and mechanisms. Further, while Ostrom provides multiple success stories for her model, they typically include common-pool regimes functioning at a local level, with success stories on a larger scale elusive. Near-Earth orbit is perhaps the largest-scale CPR to consider. Consequently, not only is additional work needed to relate Ostrom’s model specifically to space, but to determine the limits of applicability of Ostrom’s model and other models that should be considered.