News hardware NASA has finally realized that space junk will prevent us from returning to space…
NASA goes into panic mode and realizes it’s time to take action to deal with space junk orbiting Earth. A problem that could become dramatic in the long term.
Space debris in orbit is a real problem today
For many years, scientists have worried about the consequences of treating space as a big dump. Most craft sent out of our atmosphere are not desorbed (the process of disintegrating objects in the Earth’s atmosphere). Result: we find debris orbiting the Earth at more than 8km/s. A speed so great that a simple bolt travels eight times faster than a rifle bullet.
To understand the extent of the problem, you have to look at space waste estimates. In 2022, we counted at least 36,000 pieces of debris over 10 cm, including 5,000 inactive satellites. But the most worrying are the 900,000 pieces of debris larger than 1 cm and the 130 million debris larger than 1 mm. Even at this size, the damage can be disastrous.
With in addition a real constellation of small satellites that SpaceX deploys with Starlink, the devices in low orbit are more and more numerous. Even to the point of having to do avoidance maneuvers from the International Space Station. It is also regularly hit by small debris, causing regular damage.
The other problem with space debris is the risk of a chain reaction. This was theorized in Kessler Syndrome. The scenario is that one comes to so much waste that it starts to collide and causes a dramatic chain reaction. The colliding pieces make smaller pieces that take in inertia.
The end result is an impossibility to leave our atmosphere, under penalty of being struck by a debris going 24 times the speed of sound in the air. Finding a solution now is therefore essential.
NASA launches research, but no missions
The American government group finally decides to react, but gently. Initially, a panel of experts was set up to establish the strategy to be adopted. The titles of each of the three themes show that it is about theory and not about practice. We will have to wait for the results of the teams to know more about NASA’s actions.
Each team has a project to set up to establish the most suitable solution. The goal is also to avoid continuing to pollute Space with new debris and establish rules.
On the side of the ESA (the European Space Agency), a mission to capture space objects was launched in 2020. The budget for the mission is 86 million and the agency called on a private company, ClearSpace . The first space mission is scheduled for 2025. This is to collect debris.
The other solution is to deorbit the debris back to our atmosphere to disintegrate. Concrete missions take a long time to get started. The problem does not seem as urgent as it really is. Many scientists are concerned in the coming years of the increasing complexity of sending launchers into space.