A new annual report from the European Space Agency (ESA) has found that while we have become aware of the problem and have taken steps in recent years to reduce it, those steps are currently accompanied by a wider scale of space junk Are not.
All spacefaring countries have contributed to the problem, which is important: As more and more bad objects populate space near Earth, the risk of collisions increases – which is even more due to objects crashing and shattering. Space produces debris.
Threats have been prominent in the past year. Not only have we nearly collided two large dead satellites, but the International Space Station has had to conduct emergency maneuvers three times to avoid hitting space debris.
As the ESA reports, collisions are not even close to being the biggest problem. In the last 10 years, collisions accounted for only 0.83 percent of all fragmentation events.
“The biggest contribution to the current space debris problem is the explosion in the orbit, which is caused by left-energy and fuel, and onboard spacecraft and rockets,” said Holger Cragg, head of ESA’s Space Safety Program.
“Despite measures being taken for years to prevent this, we do not see any decline in the number of such incidents. The trend towards mission disposal is improving, but at a slower pace.”
The problem of space junk was first raised in the 1960s, but it took a long time to identify and implement mitigation measures. Now, astronaut nations are much better at planning what happens to satellites and rockets at the end of their missions.
The reusable rocket is a large one, although the technology is still in its infancy. For decades, rocket boosters were left to drift only when they would deliver their payloads into low-Earth orbit. Some of those untouched boosters have been out there for decades.
Other mitigation measures include designing and building spacecraft that can withstand the harsh environment of space without decomposing optimally; Releasing stored energy and fuel to reduce the possibility of detonated spacecraft exploding; And, once the mission of a spacecraft is over, taking it into safe orbit.
This would mean either a “cemetery orbit”, which is above the low-Earth space used to operate the spacecraft, or below it in the Earth’s atmosphere to burn it on the reentry as a clean disposal system Will be brought
But even with these measures, there have been 12 fragmentation incidents every year for the last two decades. This number is increasing, with each fragmentation event possibly presenting thousands of pieces of small debris into Earth’s orbit. At orbital velocities, even the tiniest pieces of debris can deactivate an operational satellite.
According to ESA’s statistical model, there are more than 130 million pieces of anthropogenic space debris by a millimeter. The way we can expect to do anything about the problem is from working together.
The good news is, the number of astronauts following international guidelines has increased over the past decade. Those who do not follow orbit guidelines are increasingly likely to comply with space debris mitigation measures.
But how we use space is changing. Satellite swarms, smallsats and “constellations” are becoming more common. SpaceX’s lone Starlink has placed hundreds of satellites in low-Earth orbit. Therefore, ESA says, it is more important than ever that everyone cooperate to keep as small a corner of our space clean as we can.
“The rapid growth of satellites launched into low Earth orbit is clearly visible in our latest report,” said Tim Florer, head of ESA’s Office of Space Debris.
“To continue to benefit from science, technology, and data operating in space, it is important that we achieve better compliance with existing space debris mitigation guidelines in the design and operation of spacecraft. Not enough force Can be given – it is necessary for permanent use. Of place. ”
ESA is actively working towards solutions. It has launched a project to attempt to collect space debris, with the proof-of-concept concept planned to launch in 2025. They are trying to develop technology to automate collision avoidance maneuvers, so that human controllers do not need to track and control each piece of equipment or decomposition satellite in low-Earth space.
And measures such as the Space Sustainability Rating can help countries providing basic technology to develop the basic technology by which to follow.
The ESA wrote in its report, “Space debris has become a problem for the Earth’s environment globally, to which all astronauts have contributed and to which only globally supported solutions can be the answer.”
You can read the full report here.