From Collisions to Clean-Up: Briefing about Space Debris

The term “Space Debris” refers to things that were made by humans but are no longer useful. Space debris, commonly called orbital debris or space junk, is a problem that is getting worse in space. The space junk comes from a lot of different places, such as broken satellites, rocket stages, and other things that have been sent into space over the years. Some debris came from collisions, explosions, and other accidents that happened in orbit. Space junk can be big pieces of equipment or tiny bits of paint. It can be found in many orbits around the Earth.

Space junk is a big concern because it can harm active satellites, spacecraft, and astronauts. If the junk piece is too large, it won't be burned in the earth's atmosphere, it could fall to Earth and hurt or damage people or property. Also, the amount of space junk has been growing over the past few years, which is a concern for the safety of space travel and satellite communication.

Space Debris (AI generated image)

Both manned and unmanned spacecraft can be hurt by space junk. Even small pieces of space junk, like a speck of paint, can do a lot of damage to a spacecraft if they hit it at a high speed. For example, the International Space Station has to move around often to avoid running into space junk.

Previous Events:

The problem of junk in space is not just an idea. When an active Iridium satellite and a defunct Russian satellite crashed into each other in 2009, they made thousands of pieces of space junk, some of which are still in orbit today. This event showed how dangerous space junk can be and how important it is to fix the concern.

Also, in the year, 2021, China claimed that “Two Starlink Satellites Almost Collided With the Chinese Space Station”. China also lodged a protest with The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNO OSA) over SpaceX's Starlink satellites, a document published on the latter's website revealed. According to the document, Starlink satellites have had close encounters with the Chinese Space Station, risking the health and even life of its astronauts.

Elon Musk founded SpaceX plans to offer satellite-based internet services across the globe and has ambitious plans of launching 12,000 satellites in low-earth orbit to support its service. So far (Feb 2023), the company has launched only 3,580 satellites but is already responsible for 1,600 near-collisions each week. The only reason why these satellites have not caused a space mishap yet is due to the autonomous collision avoidance tech that they are armed with. However, the tech seems to have to run them into trouble on more than one occasion.

Ways to Reduce Space Junk:

There have been many attempts to cut down on the amount of space junk in orbit to solve the problem of space junk. One way to deal with satellites and other space junk is to take them out of orbit and let them burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. Some space missions now use less explosive bolts to release payloads and make spacecraft more resistant to collisions.

Another way to deal with space junk is to remove it on purpose. Several companies and groups are working on ways to capture and get rid of space junk. These ideas include using nets, harpoons, or robotic arms to catch space junk and then dragging it down into the Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up.

In conclusion, space junk is a big problem for both space travel and satellite communication. It is a threat to both manned and unmanned spacecraft, and work is still going on to reduce the amount of debris in orbit and remove it. The challenge is to find ways to reduce the danger that space junk poses while still allowing space exploration and the good things it brings to continue.

That's for today, please comment your thoughts and don't forget to subscribe to Vigyan Geeks newsletter.

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