Is the Sky for Sale? The Lost Sanctity of our Night Skies

Dimitri Pletschette
5 min readNov 3, 2023

Introduction

We are all witnessing the fast and unstoppable transformation of our technological landscape. Today, I keep asking myself the same question: “Is the sky for sale?” It touches on legal, commercial, ethical, and other ecological aspects. In this short-intended article, we will tentatively explore the pros and cons of commercializing the sky and shed light on recent examples, like the Las Vegas Sphere, the Starlink satellites, and the advertising drones in Asia.

Source: Sphere | Las Vegas (thespherevegas.com)

The Pros of Commercializing the Sky

Bridging the Digital Gap

One of the most compelling arguments in favor of commercializing the sky is the potential to bridge the digital worldwide gaps in terms of internet access. Projects like SpaceX’s Starlink and OneWeb aim to provide global internet coverage, connecting remote and underserved regions worldwide. This can transform education, healthcare, and economic opportunities for millions, making the sky a powerful tool for progress and humanity. I love the energy of this short video; I mean, how cool is that!

Source: Starlink

Kicking off the space economy

The commercialization of space has opened up new possibilities for the space economy. Various companies are now researching asteroid mining and lunar colonization and have started Space Tourism. Some of these ventures not only hold the promise of potential astronomical profits but also drive innovation, job creation, and economic growth in some parts of the world.

Source: Virgin Galactic

Adding a new super-cool digital layer

Recently, the Las Vegas sphere started to operate in the United States, which created astonishing new visual digital experiences. The videos that circulated with the U2 concert were impressive. Although the ecological impact is a concern, I secretly wish I could have been there (and I am sure you too).

Source: U2 concert at the Sphere U2 | Las Vegas | Sphere (thespherevegas.com)

The Cons of Commercializing the Sky

Space Debris and Environmental Impact

One of the most significant drawbacks is the escalating issue of space debris around our planet. The launch of satellites and other space missions generated a substantial amount of space junk, which, in the long term, will pose a threat to both working satellites and future space exploration in general. Mitigating this debris is a pressing concern for all parties involved, as it simply endangers our access to space and exacerbates environmental pollution.

Source: Explainer: What Is Space Junk and How Does It Affect the Environment? (earth.org)

Visual and Radio Frequency Pollution

The shiny and new dazzling Las Vegas Sphere, an emblem of modern digital entertainment, has recently stirred a debate about visual pollution. Its LED façade radiates light into the night sky, potentially interfering with astronomical observations and impacting the nocturnal environment. Additionally, on the other side of the atmosphere, deploying mega-constellations, like Starlink, has also raised concerns about radio frequency pollution, which may affect ground-based astronomy and radio communications.

Source: Project in-depth: MSG Sphere Las Vegas — RTF (re-thinkingthefuture.com)

The lost sanctity of our night skies

This is, for me, a big one! The recent deployment of Asian advertising drones, which project advertisements onto the night sky, raises ethical concerns. While it is a fun and innovative marketing approach, it adds to the growing issue of light pollution. Balancing technological advancement and respect for the sanctity of the night sky becomes essential and urgent for us not to sleep in dystopian night skies.

Hundreds of Drones Create “Dystopian” Advertisement in the Sky — RADII

Legal Framework and Governance

A complex legal framework, including the Outer Space Treaty and various national regulations, governs the commercialization of space. The challenge lies in adapting these frameworks to accommodate the fast-evolving space industry. Maintaining an intelligent balance between innovation and safeguarding global interests is a delicate task that requires international cooperation and diligent governance.

Ethical Concerns

Commercializing the sky does present some ethical dilemmas. This topic pushes us to question how much we commodify the natural world. Can we even do that? We must consider the impact on our cultural heritage and the equitable distribution of benefits from space activities. These ethical considerations are essential in shaping our approach to the cosmos exploration, use, and commercialization.

Photo by Denis Degioanni on Unsplash

Conclusion

In conclusion, as we wrestle with the question, “Is the sky for sale?” the path forward is nuanced. It’s not about completely dismissing commercialization but rather about approaching it responsibly. We must continue to develop technologies to mitigate space debris, reduce light pollution as much as possible and as urgently as possible, and protect the environment in general. The sky is not yet for sale in the sense of being owned. Still, it’s undoubtedly a domain where commercial activities can thrive with the right balance of responsibility, regulation, and ethical considerations. The sky above us is, for now, a shared resource, and we must ensure its splendors are preserved for future generations, even as we explore its commercial potential.

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Dimitri Pletschette

Dad, Husband, Blogger, Digital Product Manager and Technology Enthusiast. Follow 👉 https://dimitripletschette.com