Orbiting space debris threatens Earth
Digamber Eslampure | Collegio Reporter
Space junk is emerging as one of the greatest threats to Earth’s orbit. Space junk is comprised of manmade orbiting objects that are no longer used. These include debris from old satellites and spacecrafts, spanners, bolts and other rubbish.
We are already grappling with many problems, such as pollution, unsustainable waste management, increasing population, poverty, global warming, overconsumption of natural resources, growing water problems and deforestation, but space junk adds further strain to the planet.
Mankind started launching satellites only 55 years ago, but already we have created a traffic jam of objects orbiting around Earth. Some of the satellites no longer work, yet they still revolve around Earth. They can collide with each other, which creates even more space debris.
Scientists predicted this growth of space debris decades ago. Donald Kessler and John Gabbard were two scientists who researched space junk, and they concluded that collisions and space junk could be the greatest risk for space vehicles by 2000. Other scientists were skeptical but later accepted the paper’s conclusion.
According to NASA, collisions of space junk tripled between 2006 and 2008. Three major incidents explain this increase: a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, which created thousands of pieces of space junk; the Russian Cosmos 2421 satellite, which broke apart in 2008 and, in February 2009, a collision between the satellite Cosmos 2251 and the satellite Iridium 33. These incidents indicate a serious threat is looming if we fail to take proper measures now.
Large moving objects will collide with each other, and they will create tens of thousands of smaller objects. These small objects could pose a serious threat to space vehicles in orbit because of their high velocity.
Vanguard 1, an American satellite launched in 1958 and lost in 1964 still remains in orbit. Scientists estimate that 6,000 tons of debris are currently revolving around Earth.
The vital parts of the spacecrafts are protected by whipple shields, but the space debris may considerably reduce the lifetime of spacecrafts. If a spacecraft depends on solar energy for power then it should have solar panels. The panels need to face the sun so these are the most vulnerable parts on the spacecraft.
The cloud of orbiting junk is growing at a steady pace. Scientists are seeing small particles of space junk become attached to the windows of currently operating spacecraft. In 2006, the space shuttle Atlantis was hit by space junk, which created a small hole on the radiator panel. A similar incident occurred to the space shuttle Endeavor in 2007. They worry that future space vehicles will suffer serious damage if the amount of space junk increases.
Experts also fear that the increasing density of space junk will affect the global positioning system (GPS), international telecommunication signals and television signals. Weather forecasts could also be affected by increased junk in space. This space junk also poses a threat to the continued existence of the International Space Station.
Scientists also caution that we don’t know how the situation will play out in the future; it’s better to institute appropriate measures now so that we can prevent disasters later.
So far, we don’t have the proper technology in place to handle this trash. To create the technology, we would need international cooperation, in collaboration with NASA and the United Nations defense force to monitor the space debris. They hope sophisticated garbage-collecting robots can be developed to drag the defunct satellites out of Earth’s orbit, to be burned in space or brought back to Earth.