Space Junk : Threat to Future Launches

A BURGEONING blizzard of space debris is going to have a major impact on the future economics of space flight.

That was the prediction made this week by Hugh Lewis of the University of Southampton, UK, at the European Air and Space Conference in Manchester. His projections indicate that the number of close encounters between objects in orbit will rise 50 per cent in the next decade, and quadruple by 2059. Countermeasures will add greatly to the cost of future missions.

Ever since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, satellite operators have used Earth orbit as a junkyard, dumping spent rocket stages and dead spacecraft there. As the danger of collisions with active spacecraft began to expose the cost of this folly, space agencies have tried not to add to the junk pile, but events have conspired against them.

In 2007, the Chinese army used a missile to destroy a defunct weather satellite, and earlier this year an Iridium communications satellite collided with a derelict Russian vehicle. Both events added many thousands of debris shards to near-Earth space.

The number of pieces of space debris has risen by 40 per cent in the past four years alone. The US air force Space Command now tracks 19,000 orbiting objects that are 10 centimetres or more across – including around 800 working satellites – and estimates that there are 500,000 smaller fragments in orbit.

Lewis wondered what effect this growing debris field would have on managing future satellite operations. How much more often will mission controllers have to track debris and consider taking evasive action? To find out, he used data from an industry database called Socrates to correlate the change over time in the quantity of debris with the number of occasions on which objects come within 5 kilometres of each other. Then, using the predicted growth in the debris population over the next 50 years, he estimated the number of close approaches that are set to occur.

Compared with the 13,000 close approaches per week now, his projection showed that there will be 20,000 a week in 2019 and upwards of 50,000 a week in 2059. From this he predicts that satellite operators will have to make five times as many collision avoidance manoeuvres in 2059 as they will in 2019. “There’s going to be a big impact,” says Lewis. “You’re going to need more tracking to remove uncertainty about close approaches and undertake more manoeuvres.”

The European Space Agency is already seeing an increase in close approaches to its ERS-2 and Envisat Earth-observation spacecraft, says Heiner Klinkrad, who heads the agency’s space-debris office in Darmstadt, Germany. But while he recognises that Lewis’s numbers “sound threatening” he believes operators should be able to cope if they maintain strong tracking capabilities.


About bruceleeeowe
An engineering student and independent researcher. I'm researching and studying quantum physics(field theories). Also searching for alien life.

17 Responses to Space Junk : Threat to Future Launches

  1. Mark Louis says:

    Hey Bruceleeeowe, definitely a good reading. It is certainly a very big problem for our future missions. Any idea against this?

  2. Mark Louis says:

    Oh… I’ve one idea. How about using space vaccume cleaner. It’s good. Am right, Bruceleeeowe?

  3. dad2059 says:

    I would suggest a fine, vast nanotech net unfurled out 10 kilometers, controlled by micro-jets for attitude control to gather in the pieces.

    • bruceleeeowe says:

      Nice idea, dad! I haven’t even think about it yet. Wow… I think NASA would consider using this idea. nanotech net certainly will be one of the choice nasa will use in future. I think I can use your idea in next post How Do You Clean Space?

    • Mark Louis says:

      Hey Dad2059, I don’t think it is good idea. Our nanotechnology is not so high that we could use it in making net that would collect space junk. It would be a great challenge. Is not?

      • Bruceleeeowe says:

        @Mark: why do you think so? I think dad is right and this could surely be possible in near future and tangible. That’s all at least I think so.

        • dad2059 says:

          Thanks Bruce, Mark has a point in that our nanotech isn’t up to the challenge yet.

          But in the five to ten year time-frame such a concept would be feasible.

          By then we’d have twice as much junk to collect and the net would have to be one hundred kilometers instead of ten! 😆

  4. bruceleeeowe says:

    Oh..,. Mark Louis bad idea that is not going to work anyway. Space vacuum cleaner? Well, That’ll not work anyway because there would be no pressure difference between system and surrounding. I think you were kidding.

  5. Tony Brown says:

    Good article. Nice debate is here. Sorry, I’ve no idea how to clean space. Well, waiting for next posts.

  6. Mark Louis says:

    Now you are right dad2059! It would certainly take at least 10years to be feasible. Well, I’ve visited your blog too. Thanks for such a nice blog dad2059.

  7. Spaceman says:

    So quite simple answer! Because we’ve no any other propulsion technology than those smoky damn rocket. Most of the propulsion without propellent technologies exist only in research paper. Not even detours reality.

  8. Henry Watts says:

    Here is a good link matching your article
    propulsion without propellent will be a good choice. Or just make spacecrafts too stealthy that is not affected by such collisions.

    • Mark Louis says:

      Umm… Can you tell me how would you do that even nanotech is unable to perform such stealthness. Carbonnanotubes! Nothing is going to right direction.

  9. YanLee says:

    There’s No way! Except propulsion without propellent. We can’t wipe out whole debris wandering in space. Neither we can take it down to Earth nor anywhere in space but if it all ends where it is, It’s good for Augustine.

  10. Pingback: Self Replicating Systems Could Make Space Colonization Easy « Bruceleeeowe's Blog

  11. Pingback: Future Energy Debate Version Of Carnival Of Space #151 « Bruceleeeowe's Blog

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