Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Garbage Planet

The garbage planet - the "si-fi analogue" of a garbage dump.  A world where people fly in from all over to dispose of waste. 

Star Wars seemed fond of the idea (see for example Lotho Minor ) 

Is this likely? Does it make sense to launch garbage into space?  

To do this analysis, I will use the economy from the rather good Star Wars SAGA system.  Energy costs are cheap in star wars - it costs about 50 credits to launch a small cargo ship in space, a ship that can carry 100 tons.  Compare that to current space launch costs that are in the 10 000$ per kg!  

I did run a campaign with the SAGA system about 15 years ago; where commerce was important.  Based on that experience, I know that hauling goods in a light freighter can be profitable-ish with a 20 credits/ton margin.  Larger ships can do much better (meaning they only need to make a few credits per ton to make a profit).  So shipping garbage makes economic sense in star wars, there is quite likely that there are several garbage disposal ships in operation - we don't hear much about it because I suppose it's very unglamorous - scrapy smuggler or salvager sure, but garbage hauling - not cool enough for the movies.  Heavily populated planet probably have *fleets* of such ships.

That's just half the equation though.  Does this mean the existence of a "garbage planet" is plausible?  Well... the big flaw with the concept is *why* - why bother flying a long distance to a garbage planet instead of just using a nearby gas giant or star?  Star Wars fuel is cheap yes, but it still takes time and effort to go on long journeys. So why have specific "garbage planets"?  There has to be an economic reason for doing so... 

- I think a more likely explanation is that the garbage planets are more... immense salvage yards.  The economics of such a place could be varied, but they (some sort of overseer group) could purchase the salvage, then have low cost labor (droids? jawas? slaves?) extract "value" from this salvage to re-sell to merchants, perhaps in exchange for supplies.  It could be that the control of vital supplies is how the "overseer group" stays in power.  Or it could be a cooperative?  Definitely room for various forms of governance, and possibly adventuring hooks.  There could be planets where there is no more significant inlay of salvage/garbage, but there is so much build up that scavenging operations are ongoing.

It's also possible, even likely, that these large salvage yards are causing significant environmental damage to the planet.  Depending on what the planet was before the garbage dumping started, or who lives there, this could lead to all sorts of conflict.

And I think all this is fertile ground for adventure, more than just a mere garbage planet "existing".  The more one knows about a planet and what makes it "tick", the more avenues for adventure exist!