For the past 58 years, starting in 1957, mankind has been launching enormous swarms of satellites and useless space debris in the vicinity of planet Earth. Many of these fragments swoop around our home planet at 17,000 miles per hour. When they collide at such high speeds, huge numbers of space debris fragments are instantly […]
For the past 58 years, starting in 1957, mankind has been launching
enormous swarms of satellites and useless space debris in the
vicinity of planet Earth. Many of these fragments swoop around our
home planet at 17,000 miles per hour. When they collide at such high
speeds, huge numbers of space debris fragments are instantly
created many of which continue to circle around the Earth with the
possibility of further collisions.
In the 1978 Donald Kessler, a talented researcher at NASA Houston,
realized that successive collisions could create ever larger swarms of
debris fragments that could, in turn, engage in further collisions to
create even more dangerous fragments. Soon the space around the
Earth would be swarming with dangerous, high-speed metallic
shrapnel. This phenomenon has, in the meantime, then called the
“Kessler Syndrome”. It is similar in concept to the nuclear chain
reactions that make atomic bombs possible. Donald Kessler made
careful estimates of the total tonnage of large objects in Earth orbit
that could end up imprisoning us on our beautiful, blue planet. Flying
space missions through swarms of high-speed debris could become
much too dangerous for anyone to advocate.
Separate studies have indicated that a highly energetic collision at a
speed of about five miles per second (typical for low-altitude impacts)
could create as many as 20 objects per pound of mass involved in
What can be done to minimize the probability of a runaway “Kessler
Syndrome” that could, theoretically, imprison all of us on planet
1. We could impose more stringent rules on the launching
satellites and the debris fragments that typically result from such a
launch. Some rules have already been established in conjunction
with space exploration. These could be made more stringent. And
they could be accompanied by fines or other penalties for those who
fail to comply.
2. We could remove existing debris fragments from space to
minimize the hazard of collisions. Some experts envision roving
capture devices (e. g., spaceborne drones) that would rendezvous
with — and remove — useless debris fragments from their orbits and
hurl them back to Earth into remote oceans areas for safe disposal.
3. Ground-based lasers could illuminate selected debris
fragments to push them out of orbit. Serious studies of this approach
have been conducted at NASA headquarters, at NASA Houston, and
at the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
4. Large debris fragments could be tracked with precision with
ground-based and space-based sensors to pin down their trajectories
to a high degree of accuracy. Probable collisions could then be
predicted and spaceborne devices could be launched to nudge one
or both of the objects onto safe collision-free trajectories. Among
other approaches, puffs of air have been proposed to accomplish
In 1978 Donald Kessler managed to develop a highly imaginative
concept now called the Kessler Syndrome. His analysis indicated
that, if we continue on our present path, we could all become
prisoners on planet Earth unable to engage in the safe exploration of
outer space. Fortunately, techniques are available to help mitigate
this worrisome hazard.
Tom Logsdon, who penned this account, tells the story of the space
debris fragments now enveloping planet Earth in his special short
course: “ORBITAL AND LAUNCH MECHANICS” which is being
sponsored by the Applied Technology Institute on January 25 – 28,
2016, in Albuquerque, New Mexico and on March 1 – 4, 2016, in
These courses, which are lavishly illustrated with 400 full-color
visuals, also include detailed explanations of the counterintuitive
nature of powered flight maneuvers together with explanations of the
new “Superhighways in Space”, and the contrasting philosophies of
Russian and American booster rocket design.
The illustrative calculations included in the course all employ realworld
data values gleaned from the instructor’s professional
experiences in the aerospace industry. Each student will receive a
full-color version of every chart that appears on the screen, several
pamphlets and written explanations of the concepts under review,
and autographed copies of two of Logsdon’s published books.
A few slots are still available in those two classes. Register early to assure your acceptance.
ATIcourses has many courses related to Space, Satellites, GPS and Satellite Communications. We think the the news below could be of interest to our visitors. Amid reports that China is gearing up to conduct one more anti-satellite weapons test (ASAT) putting US Global Positioning System (GPS) at risk, Chinese state media today asserted that Beijing […]
ATIcourses has many courses related to Space, Satellites, GPS and Satellite Communications. We think the the news below could be of interest to our visitors.
Amid reports that China is gearing up to conduct one more anti-satellite weapons test (ASAT) putting US Global Positioning System (GPS) at risk, Chinese state media today asserted that Beijing had the right to carry out the test as it is a “trump card” against Washington.
China may be gearing up to perform a controversial ASAT test this month, perhaps in the next week or two, US media report said.
“In 2007 and 2010, China conducted anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests, both on January 11. Rumours circulating for the past few months suggest that some within the US defence and intelligence community believe China is preparing to conduct another ASAT test,” Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge-based body of scientists reported.
China’s previous tests caused concern in India too with assertions by the Indian defence officials that New Delhi also should acquire such a capability.
Read more here.
What distinguishes the Swiss? Ingenuity and tidiness! The researches from Swiss Federal Institute for Technology announced yesterday that they will be designing the world’s first janitor satellite. The project is called CleanSpace One and will be launched within 3-5 years. Space debris is a really big issue. The U.S. space agency NASA says over 500,000 […]
What distinguishes the Swiss? Ingenuity and tidiness!
The researches from Swiss Federal Institute for Technology announced yesterday that they will be designing the world’s first janitor satellite. The project is called CleanSpace One and will be launched within 3-5 years.
Space debris is a really big issue.
The U.S. space agency NASA says over 500,000 pieces of spent rocket stages, broken satellites and other debris are orbiting Earth. The debris travels at speeds approaching 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kilometers per hour), fast enough to destroy or inflict expensive and time-draining damage on a satellite or spacecraft. Collisions, in turn, generate more fragments floating in space.
Space junk has collided with satellites at least twice: In 1996, a French satellite was damaged by a rocket fragment, and in 2009, a satellite owned by U.S.-based Iridium Communications was destroyed in a collision with a derelict Russian satellite.
“It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation,” said Claude Nicollier, an astronaut and EPFL professor.
Building the satellite means developing new technology to address three big problems, scientists say.
The first hurdle has to do with trajectory: The satellite has to be able to adjust its path to match that of its target. EPFL said its labs are looking into a new ultra-compact motor that can do this.
Next, the satellite has to be able to grab hold of and stabilize the debris at high speeds. Scientists are studying how plants and animals grip things as a model for what would be used.
And, finally, CleanSpace One then has to be able to guide the debris, or unwanted satellites, back into Earth’s atmosphere, where both the Swiss-made satellite and the floating garbage it collects would burn on re-entry.
The Swiss Space Center’s director, Volker Gass, said it hopes to someday “offer and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites.”
It remains to be seen how cost-effective the satellites are since each one would be destroyed after its mission, but governments might provide some funding if governments agree to rules to limit debris.
In 2007, China purposely destroyed one of its own satellites with a missile in a test, putting an estimated 150,000 smaller pieces of debris into space and 3,000 big enough to be tracked by radar on the ground.
More recently, Russia’s $170 million planned Mars moon probe got stranded in Earth’s orbit after its Nov. 9 launch. Efforts by Russian and European Space Agency experts to bring it back to life failed. It was one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth.
There have been no reports of anyone ever being hit by it on Earth, but the problem it poses has slowly gained traction in political circles in the decades since the space age began more than a half-century ago.
The European Union has proposed its own draft rules for operating in space and the United States views that document as a starting point.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned last month of the space environment is threatened by space junk, and said the U.S. will hold talks with the EU to set informal rules aimed at limiting debris.
What is your opinion? Please comment below.
Got an idea? Here is your chance to present it as well as win a competition. What are some of the ideas on the table? Here are just a few. a laser that could beam power and communications over the vast distances of space a sail that could shield a craft from space debris and […]
Got an idea? Here is your chance to present it as well as win a competition. What are some of the ideas on the table? Here are just a few.
a laser that could beam power and communications over the vast distances of space
a sail that could shield a craft from space debris and safely land it from orbit
a small atomic clock that can keep time long enough and accurately enough for the challenges of deep-space navigation
This is all very exciting except for one thing. All this ideas are being gathered in order to assist NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket that is supposed to be launched in 2017. There is a lot of debate on whether or not the proposed launch will ever happen. There is also concern that the huge budget of the project will pull the funds away from new and emerging technologies.