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Posted by on Dec 12, 2012 in Science |

Space debris: hazard in heaven and earth

Space debris: hazard in heaven and earth

The space junk is a serious problem in training , in which all we could be affected directly or indirectly. It is the responsibility of governments own objects found in space, safeguard and preserve the space environment both on Earth and in the other bodies of the solar system where they have sent exploratory missions. Without a robust foreign policy that takes seriously the problem of space debris, it will surely continue to grow and see our modern way of life threatened. Nor is crazy to think that in some cases our very lives could be threatened by the objects. What are the threats generated space junk in space and on Earth?

The most notable risks, as we might expect, are beyond our atmosphere. The collision between satellites Iridium 33 and Kosmos 2251 in 2009 showed that although there is plenty of room in space, we might be running out of enough space in our LEO. In a technical report on developed by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs , in the distant 1999, it was estimated that, if not taken significant steps to mitigate space debris, by 2050 we could have Up to 20 such collisions per year. In 2008, NASA published a Handbook Limit Space Debris including a projection for the year 2050 which is estimated to create up to 2,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters a year by collisions between satellites and thousands more in other sizes.

Imagine for a minute collisions between satellites in orbit. These collisions between large objects, in turn, generate smaller fragments that possibly collide with other objects in orbit, thus creating more space junk. These smaller objects, in turn, cause more impacts and other minor fragmentations. And so the line of shocks and fragmentation could continue almost indefinitely in a cascading effect. This effect was first described by Donald J. Kessler in his essay: ” Collision Frequency of Artificial Satellites: The Creation of a belt of trash “published in 1978 in the prestigious Journal of Geophysical Research of the American Geophysical Union . Avoiding an event that triggers the Kessler Syndrome is one of the main objectives of the various space agencies of the world.

Surely we can expect collisions between satellites give dead, since according to a study of space junk the European Space Agency , just over 86% of orbiting satellites are no longer operational. True, sometimes there could be a dead satellite impact against a satellite in operation, as was the case of the collision of 2009. These are, without doubt, the impacts of interest since a collision affecting telecommunication satellite could leave a region incommunicado until they replace the satellite, which could take several months. This situation will definitely affect the population of that region in their tele-education services, telehealth and defense. Impacts also could directly affect our ability to predict the weather, which, in times of hurricanes or blizzards may cause deaths on land.

You also have to think about the dangers of an event that triggers the Kessler Syndrome. In the event that there is a fragmentation chain orbiting objects, we might think of a massively affected our satellite communications, our space experiments as well as our ability to replace these satellites, since the excess space junk would not allow rockets have access to the orbital positions of other satellites.

This, of course, enters the realm of speculation and still have a solution. However, there are dangers in space that are really clear today and the people who suffer from the International Space Station . On March 24, 2012, the station astronauts had to hide in their Soyuz capsules as the only contingency plan, as a piece of space junk passed too close to the outpost in low Earth orbit. This was the third time in twelve years of existence of the station astronauts have had no choice but to hide in their capsules. In October this year, both NASA and the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) were evaluating the possibility of making an evasive maneuver at the station to the possible threat of a piece of space junk, which fortunately went away from the space station. Can you imagine the catastrophe that would occur if the International Space Station was evacuated and partially destroyed by space debris?

To a lesser extent, the debris can also cause problems on Earth. According to a study by The Aerospace Corporation between 10% and 40% of the material from satellites survive atmospheric reentry. In these 55 years of space exploration is estimated that up to 5,400 tons of space junk have resisted their return to Earth. Occasionally entire fragments of satellites or rockets have been found in various locations on the planet. The picture accompanying this post is a fuel tank 270kg iron a Delta-II that landed near Georgetown, Texas in 1997. In November last year found a fuel tank of 30 kg in Namibia and in February 2012 another tank very similar was found near a small town in Brazil. If these impacts have happened in a crowded city would surely have some injured or killed. Aerospace Corp shares a list of the 67 largest pieces have been recovered on Earth.

I can not finish talking about the dangers of space junk without mentioning the singular event of the Russian spy satellite Kosmos 954 in 1978 caused a major disaster in the territories of the Canadian Northwest . The Kosmos 954, which worked with a small nuclear reactor failed and rejoined the Earth out of control. Twelve pieces survived reentry of the accident, of which ten were highly contaminated with radiation from the reactor vessel. The government of the United States along with Canada covered a total of 124 square kilometers in the Operation Morning Light seeking to recover as much contaminated waste and avoid problems in the Canadian population. By this disaster the Canadian government wanted to fine the Soviet Union with more than 6 million Canadian dollars in a deal the Soviet Union came to pay only $ 3 million .