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The quest to conquer Earth’s space junk problem

The quest to conquer Earth’s space junk problem


In an article from Nature by Alexandra Witze:

On Monday 2 July, the CryoSat-2 spacecraft was orbiting as usual, just over 700 kilometres above Earth’s surface. But that day, mission controllers at the European Space Agency (ESA) realized they had a problem: a piece of space debris was hurtling uncontrollably towards the €140-million (US$162-million) satellite, which monitors ice on the planet.

As engineers tracked the paths of both objects, the chances of a collision slowly increased — forcing mission controllers to take action. On 9 July, ESA fired the thrusters on CryoSat-2 to boost it into a higher orbit. Just 50 minutes later, the debris rocketed past at 4.1 kilometres a second.

This kind of manoeuvre is becoming much more common each year, as space around Earth grows increasingly congested. In 2017, commercial companies, military and civil departments and amateurs lofted more than 400 satellites into orbit, over 4 times the yearly average for 2000–2010. Numbers could rise even more sharply if companies such as Boeing, OneWeb and SpaceX follow through on plans to deploy hundreds to thousands of communications satellites into space in the next few years. If all these proposed ‘megaconstellations’ go up, they will roughly equal the number of satellites that humanity has launched in the history of spaceflight.

Read more ...

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September 14, 2018


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