Space Junk

Space Junk

The number of satellites orbiting the earth is increasing and is expected to continue to increase at a quite substantial rate over the next 5-10 years. But what happens to all the satellites when they are no longer wanted?

I have read multiple reports that suggest within 10 years there will be around 10,000 satellites providing various types of connectivity and information to us mere mortals, this number does not include the discarded/ unused birds that are already in space. It is not only the environmental impact of plastic waste on the ground but the damage that our continued reliance and dependence on space technology that needs to be addressed.

But surely as this is in space it won’t affect us on earth? Just imagine having 50,000 pieces of metal and plastic floating around out of control. Then imagine just one of those pieces flying into a working satellite. It won’t only damage and probably destroy that satellite, but will then generate further debris floating through space. This process will then continue because nothing or no one can stop it, creating a domino effect that could render some orbits impassable or useable by us. By damaging multiple satellites this will stop seamless connectivity for many users, connectivity that could be providing major mobile phone company coverage, tracking vital assets or even transmitting life saving data.

Many companies and technologies are exploring what can be done to prevent a catastrophic space collision and even reduce the waste that is left in the first place. Future solutions may include space robots, nets to collect any particles and even a laser to disintegrate them.  For the solutions that are looking to collect the debris, operators are then planning to bring them into the earth atmosphere to burn up.

One company has recently announced plans for a satellite shield which will be designed to break objects into smaller fragments and disperse them into different directions, however I can’t help but think this may not resolve the issue but potentially have the opposite affect creating more debris.

Many of the newer satellites in the low earth orbit, are supposed to eventually orbit their own way into the earths orbit to burn up within 25 years after no longer being required. This obviously will not be proven until it has been put into action.

A lot of the proposed remedies to reduce rubbish that is already floating uncontrollably around the earth, are still very much in trial and design phases. It will therefore be some years I feel until there is an answer to the situation that has developed over 50 years of space use. Companies are very much aware and have the desire to resolve the issue, but just like the seas and wildlife, outer space is already suffering due to humans disregard to the consequences of our throw away culture. I wish any extra terrestrials luck in attempting to make contact with earth.

Kay Barber
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