Why Is Space Junk Dangerous and What Can We Do About It?
How is it possible that we devote so much time and effort to space travel, when there are so many issues on our planet? Because of the unique advantages of space-based systems, we can solve a range of terrestrial problems, from natural resources management to multispectral mapping. Soon, a swarm of tiny satellites will bring the internet to the world.
However, while we enjoy having an orbital workforce, we should also pay attention to space junk accumulation. Addressing this issue in time can help to avoid an environmental catastrophe on par with air and sea pollution.
Plenty of spacecraft is located in geostationary orbit, over 30,000 km above the Earth’s sea level. Functional communications and weather satellites comprise the bulk of these spacecraft, but some spacecraft in the same orbit are already inactive.
However, if we consider the number of satellites and space debris in low-Earth orbit, GEO orbit will look uncluttered. LEO is crucial to reach any other orbit, the Moon, or other planets because spacecraft will always travel through it.
Considering the above fact, the level of debris and the velocities are higher in LEO. For this reason, spacecraft traveling through LEO and currently operating satellites are endangered, according to Max Polyakov.
Solutions for removing space debris
NASA was the first to propose measures to address the growing orbital debris issue in the mid-1990s, and other international organizations quickly followed. A group of ten member nations adopted a set of proposals in 2002. The guidelines address the issues of artificial and natural debris in space. If these guidelines are followed, we will be able to create a better and more sustainable environment in space.
Space companies are now developing small spacecraft to deal with space debris. Ion, Hall Effect, and plasma thrusters are used in satellites to minimize tiny particles of emissions from chemical missiles, as well as to move defunct spacecraft into Earth’s atmosphere. Japan is even designing a wooden spacecraft. If it’s effective, it will reduce the nuclear waste that the de-orbiting spacecraft produce while redirecting space junk back to the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Max Polyakov says that we need to think further than cleaning up existing debris. The number of satellites in orbit continues to grow, which means more junk is on the way. That issue will have to be addressed, too.
Today, aerospace companies are working on satellites that could capture space debris. Some use nets, harpoons, and magnets to gather orbital debris. Tohoku University in Japan is developing a de-orbiting device that uses a particle beam to push garbage into Earth’s atmosphere.
Though some measures are already taken, we would have to combine several strategies to eliminate existing space junk and prevent its accumulation in orbits. We will need to use lower Earth orbit effectively for future space exploration, which requires a coordinated effort from several industries, states Dr. Max Polyakov.