(The AEGIS Alliance) -- 500,000 varying sized pieces of space junk are being tracked by the U.S. government as they are hurtling in orbit around Earth. About 20,000 of the space debris objects are bigger than a softball.
Scientists at the University of Surrey are developing methods to clean up the ever growing mess in space. Previously a space debris catching net was tested. Now, a harpoon has successfully been tested. However, the harpoon impales its targets.
“This is RemoveDEBRIS’ most demanding experiment and the fact that it was a success is testament to all involved,” said the director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, Guglielmo Aglietti, in a public statement.
the RemoveDEBRIS group consists of collaborators internationally, and its next plans are a final experiment that would responsibly destroy the satellite.
During March, the RemoveDEBRIS satellite is going to “inflate a sail that will drag the satellite into Earth’s atmosphere where it will be destroyed,” stated the university.
This is what the group wants to do for vaporizing dangerous debris is catches in the future.
Space debris that humans are responsible for is hurtling in orbit around Earth at higher speeds than a fired bullet. Debris often travels at around 17,500 mph or even faster than that. There is always a threat of collisions, but the odds of impact are a lot less than others in some orbits. However, The International Space Station for example, is in a mostly debris free orbit, but even then there is still a threat from “natural debris” or micro-meteors that could strike the space station.
There is far more debris going around the Earth in other orbits. During 2009, a neglected Russian satellite collided with a functioning Iridium telecommunication satellite traveling at about 26,000 mph, which scattered around 200,000 pieces of space debris as a result. When China launched a missile into an old weather satellite in 2007, it sprayed shrapnel into Earth’s orbit.
There is an increased risk as additional satellites are sent into outer space. SpaceX has now been granted plans approved by the government for launching thousands of its Starlink satellites into Earth’s orbit. It is a pricey program, and could have the funds to do it by the mid-2020’s. This project would double or even triple the amount of satellites in Earth’s orbit.
“It is unprecedented,” stated Kessler, who is a former senior scientist for orbital debris research at NASA. “The sheer number, that’s the problem.”
Kessler has been warning for a long time about a potentially catastrophic chain reaction within Earth’s orbit. He warned about a single collision turning into enough weaponized debris to become a destructive cycle.
Harpoon designs to grab dangerous chunks of space debris are only in the testing stages presently, but such technology may prove to be critical as Earth’s orbit increasingly becomes more filled with large metal satellites.
Kyle James Lee -- The AEGIS Alliance -- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.