There is no doubt about that. Earth’s orbit is a messy place.
But is there work in removing space junk from Earth’s orbit? And all over the world, private companies and national space agencies alike are coming up with concepts about dealing with the debris of concern. However, estimating how much nuisance junk is actually in orbit — from huge chunks of space junk to tiny paint chips to radioactive particles — is daunting.
When a satellite gets punched by a remnant debris or an explosion occurs in Earth’s orbit, especially at higher altitudes, the damaging consequences are additional. Debris from these high-velocity events remains for years, decades, and even centuries.
Related: An old Soviet satellite disintegrates in orbit after being hit by space debris
Cloudy Clear Space
The trash circling the floor is a danger. This fact has been highlighted in a strange way. The accident involved what has been described as the first-ever mission to remove an existing abandoned object from orbit.
The European Space Agency (ESA) purchased the ClearSpace-1 mission as a service from Swiss startup ClearSpace in order to showcase technical know-how to de-clutter space and “as a first step towards creating a new, sustainable and industrious commercial space ecosystem”. According to the European Space Agency.
Orbiting Earth, a rocket transducer, called VESPA, is a remnant of the 2013 Vega rocket launch that lifted off from the European Space Agency’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. This payload transformer is currently being considered as the intended target for the upcoming ClearSpace-1 Active Debris Removal (ADR) mission. The plan calls for debris to be recovered from orbit for safe re-entry into the atmosphere.
But new fragments were found near the transformer. These fragments of debris were likely the result of a high-velocity impact by a small, untracked object that struck the transformer, releasing the fragments.
The occasion was reported serendipitously by the European Space Agency, and it can be said in a tone of “we told you so”.
“This fragmentation event underscores the importance of the ClearSpace-1 mission,” the European Space Agency wrote in a message. statement. “The most significant threat posed by larger objects of space debris is that they fragment into clouds of smaller objects that can each cause significant damage to active satellites. To reduce the number of fragmentation events, we must urgently reduce the creation of new space debris and Actively start mitigating the impact of the things that are there.”
The most important things first. It needs to shed some light on the numbers of space debris objects out there.
Marshall Kaplan, co-founder and CEO of Launchspace Technologies Corporation in Boca Raton, Florida, divides the space debris into three groups.
- The largest group is 10 centimeters or larger and may be worth 35,000 pieces.
- The middle range ranges from about 1 millimeter to 10 centimeters. There are nearly millions of these pieces.
- Then there is a third group made up of things smaller than 1 millimeter, and they number in the trillions.
“The real question is what do we do about it? The answer is pretty straightforward,” Kaplan said. “We ignore anything larger than 10 centimeters because the probability of collisions is low enough that statistically this is not a problem.”
However, the middle group is the most interesting, Kaplan continued, “but it’s very difficult to identify and locate these pieces of debris.” The only way we can control them, he said, is to collect them passively, and take advantage of specially designed aggregates.
“Finally, for the smaller group, we can ignore that, because spacecraft shielding can prevent massive damage from very small objects,” Kaplan told Space.com.
“I think commercially active debris removal is just as unviable now as commercial launches and commercial Earth observation satellites were not at one point in time,” said Darren McKnight, a senior technical fellow at LeoLabs, a commercial provider of space outreach services. and Low Earth Orbit Mapping based in Menlo Park, California.
“I think and hope that ADR will have an initial phase where the major space agencies are funding missions to remove stuff left over from government programs,” McKnight told Space.com. “Over time, companies will start lowering their prices for commercial purposes.” . For example, some constellations of high-altitude Earth orbiting satellites may suffer payload failures and must be removed.
Just as space launches and Earth observations began as purely government activities, eventually the industry was able to begin to lower prices and stimulate commercial demand. “Both sides have stimulated those industries,” McKnight said. “I suspect the same will happen for active debris removal.”
left in orbit
The idea of trying to prove the net cost-benefit of alternative methods of disaster resolution in order to justify the removal of the massive abandoned monuments left in the 1980s and 2000s is a flawed approach, McKnight said.
“It is the responsibility of the major spacefaring nations — such as the United States, Russia, China, the European Space Agency and Japan — to clean up what their state-run programs have left in orbit for decades,” McKnight advised. “You would think, with all the hype about mitigating space debris and debris, that the big space-faring nations would have behaved well.”
Data collected by McKnight showed that the rate of accumulation of rocket bodies in low-Earth orbit has increased in the past 20 years compared to the roughly 45 years of the Space Age before that.
“While the United States and Russia have reduced the rate of abandonment of rocket bodies in LEO, all, especially China, have contributed to the mass of abandoned rockets increasing significantly in the past 20 years,” McKnight said. He added that two-thirds of the rocket body mass remaining in low-Earth orbit was shared by China and all other countries traveling into space except the United States and Russia.
The vast majority of rocket bodies left in low Earth orbit over the past 20 years, roughly 80 percent, will not adhere to the 25-year post-mission disposal guidelines, McKnight said. More than 40 percent of the mass of a “new” rocket body (in the past 20 years) that has been abandoned in low-Earth orbit and will not re-enter in 25 years has been left by China, and 25 percent of it is owned by Russia.
Possibility of generating debris
As for ADR pricing, McKnight believes ADR missions will focus on objects weighing more than 2,205 pounds (1,000 kilograms) over 435 miles (700 kilometers) because they present the greatest potential for debris generation and the resulting fragments will be more persistent at these higher altitudes. .
“So, I think the prices will typically be the same for older megasatellites that are not designed to be recovered,” McKnight concluded. “However, newer satellites with grappling mounts, and much smaller ones, may be less expensive to recover.”
“Interestingly, the real cost savings will come when a single mission can recover multiple objects that were abandoned at similar inclinations, but not necessarily at similar altitudes,” said McKnight.
In order to more informedly monitor orbital debris and potential blockages in space, much better methods are needed.
“More observations may not improve estimates when there are model and numerical uncertainties,” said David Finkelman, a veteran orbital debris scientist and former technical officer for the US Space Command. “Debris smaller than what we’ve seen before cannot be extrapolated from the debris clusters we’ve seen,” he told Space.com. “All estimates of smaller debris are out-of-sample and invalid.”
The same could be true of collision probabilities, Finkelmann noted. “The collisions happen once. There is no population sample. In fact, we have never seen any collision that we estimated. We developed probabilities from a sample set without collisions.”
Finkelman feels that space debris experts and critics “have exaggerated the threat, predicted consequences that are impossible within the framework of known physics, and are unwilling or unable to reveal the large uncertainties that the haze values,” Finkelman advised.
phenomena are affected
“The satellites know where they are and what is close to them better, and the procedures must be independent to achieve the greatest degree of confidence,” Finkelmann said. He said that until this moment, the orbits of objects are affected by phenomena on many time scales, referring to solar emissions and space weather that changes within minutes, or tides on the surface of the Earth or the independent rotation in the molten heart of the Earth that lasts for hours. and lunar gravitational effects that take days to resolve.
“Many critical phenomena cannot be predicted with confidence, whether it be volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricane tracks, lightning-induced wildfires, and many more,” said Finkelmann. “Uncertainty is our lot, and flexibility is our best response.”
“Some problems are so complex that we may never be able to solve them. Collisions between satellites may be one,” Finkelman concluded.