Since 2012, the European Space Agency has been working on the design of a mission to remove large space debris from orbit. A space ‘tow truck’ (artist’s impression, pictured) designed to remove dead satellited from Earth’s orbit has been commissioned by the European Space Agency (ESA). Robotic arms on the spacecraft will grab the defunct rocket segment and retract, ensuring it doesn’t lose its grasp.
The £ 100million project will start in 2025 with Clearspace-1 – which will grab the debris with robotic arms before flying back to Earth for a fiery demise in Earth’s atmosphere. Around 500,000 pieces of human-made debris currently orbit our planet, made up of disused satellites, bits of spacecraft and spent rockets. There is now believed to be an astonishing 170 million pieces of junk floating in Earth’s upper atmosphere, but only 22,000 are being tracked. Space debris ( also known as space junk, space waste, space trash, or space garbage ) is a term for defunct human-made objects in space-principally in Earth orbit – which no longer serve a useful function.
Such space junk may travel at speeds up to 27,000kph, “fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft “, according to NASA.
The NASA chief said orbital space debris threatens not only space travel, but scientific advancements. We’re losing three or four satellites a year now to space debris collision. The Kessler syndrome, proposed by the NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978, is a scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions.
The standard, most common approach to address the space junk problem is to relocate all the geostationary satellites to a graveyard orbit at the end of their operational lives. But it does not insure a debris free geostationary orbit. As of now, there is no ironclad international regulatory framework for minimizing space debris in the lower earth orbit except the voluntary guidelines provided by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space ( COPUOS ) in 2007.
The RemoveDebris satellite deployed from the International Space Station on June 20. According to Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey and principal scientist behind the mission, researchers hope to see results by the fall. The third experiment, which will test the harpoon’s ability to capture orbiting space debris, is set to take place next March. In the end, the RemoveDebris spacecraft will test a number of key technologies designed to make orbital debris removal as simple and cost-effective as possible.
This program is an excellent example of how small satellite capabilities have grown and how the space station can serve as a platform for missions of this scale. Every point on the Earth’s surface will see, at all times, a SpaceX satellite.
The highest concentration is around 865 km and is mostly made up of shrapnel from the Fengyun-1C weather satellite that was demolished by a Chinese missile test in January 2007.
The mission to remove space debris was mostly funded by the European Union, will demonstrate its satellite junk removal capabilities later this year and into next. The barriers to entry for building spacecraft were also falling, making it easier for firms to launch their own objects, said space debris expert Moriba Jah from the University of Texas, who is at the conference.
With new spacecraft launched each year, this region could also become overcrowded. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said India’s anti-satellite test was a “terrible thing” as it created more than 400 pieces of debris that threaten the safety of the International Space Station and American astronauts.
In calculating the Indian test’s potential impact last week, he said NASA determined that the risk of small debris hitting the space station was increased by 44 percent over a period of 10 days. “It’s unacceptable, and NASA needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is” , Bridenstine said, discussing space debris and India’s anti-satellite test at a town hall event Monday.
Only three other countries have achieved this feat, including the United States, Russia and China. A particle more than one centimeter in size that strikes an active satellite can disable it.
The Falcon 9 is a two – stage launch vehicle. The United States is another contributor to the high levels of radiation in near-Earth space. While this does not remove the debris of the now derelict rocket stage or satellite itself, it does substantially reduce the likelihood of the spacecraft destructing and creating many smaller pieces of space debris, a phenomenon that was common in many of the early generations of US and Soviet spacecraft.
Falcon 9 and Dragon are paving the way for a new generation of low-cost reusable spacecraft – and SpaceX is already developing Dragon to launch and return up to seven astronauts into orbit and beyond. The European Space Agency has performed an evasive manoeuvre with one of its satellites to avoid an incoming SpaceX Starlink craft. It says that the satellites, each weighing 227 kilograms, are “capable of tracking on-orbit debris and autonomously avoiding collision”.
The incident speaks to a broader problem about overcrowding in outer space. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is also planning an internet constellation of around 3,236 crafts as part of Project Kuiper. The mission was really a failure, as the attempt to return the transporter was experimental and it completed its main mission of delivering supplies to the International Space Station successfully. ESA said the manual manoeuvre didn’t affect operations of the Aeolus satellite despite it being forced to increase its altitude. ESA said that it’ reached out early to SpaceX and was informed that no manoeuvre was planned for the Starlink satellite before the close approach.