Tag: space debris

Space Debris is a Major Threat to Satellites and Extraterrestrial Travel

Article by Anna Harnes                                      September 27, 2020                                        (inquisitr.com)

• According to NPR, the International Space Station almost came into contact with space junk this past week for the third time this year. The debris usually consists of the broken pieces of satellites technology that have been used over the past 63 years of space exploration, travelling at 18,000 miles per hour. So even small objects can have dire consequences. Space debris is quickly becoming a major threat for satellites and extraterrestrial travel — and could have fatal implications.

• Raffi Khatchadourian, a reporter for The New Yorker, detailed the growing problem. One of the first signs that space debris would become an issue was back in 2015, when astronauts realized that an object was projected to hit the ISS at a staggering 31,000 miles per hour. The astronauts only had four hours to move the station, but it was too little time. So those on the craft had move into the capsule “lifeboat” and hope that the object missed. Fortunately, it did.

• “It’s estimated that there are 8,000 metric tons of sort of human-engineered mass zooming around the planet,” Khatchadourian explained. “About 26,000 of those (objects) are of a size that the US military can track, so 10 centimeters or larger. But when you get below the size of 10 centimeters, then you end up with, you know, something like a hundred million pieces that are the size of a millimeter or even a hundred trillion, the size of a micron. At the speeds we’re talking about, something the size of a grain of sand can destroy an entire spacecraft.”

• Scientists have not come up with a plan on how to clear the atmosphere, with suggestions ranging from lasers to nets to the seemingly sci-fi inspired “harpoons or robotic pincers.” Astronomers have long warned about ‘Kessler syndrome’, in which space becomes so crowded that it is unusable. This would have dire consequences for our modern world, which relies on satellites and other objects for a number of necessities.

 

Space debris is quickly becoming a major threat for satellites and extraterrestrial travel — and could have fatal implications for the latter if the issue is

     Raffi Khatchadourian

not stopped.

According to NPR, the International Space Station (ISS) almost came into contact with space junk this past week for the third time this year. The debris usually consists of the broken pieces of technology that have been used over the past 63 years of space exploration — most often from satellites. The trash often travels at speeds of around 18,000 miles per hour, meaning that even small objects can have dire consequences.

In an interview, Raffi Khatchadourian, a reporter for The New Yorker, detailed the growing problem.

Khatchadourian explained that one of the first signs that space debris would become an issue was back in 2015, when astronauts realized that an object was projected to hit the ISS at a staggering 31,000 miles per hour. It was detected late, so the astronauts only had four hours to move the station. It was too little time, so those on the craft had move into the capsule “lifeboat” and hope that the object missed. Fortunately, it did.

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The Ripple Effects of a Military Space Skirmish

Article by Ramin Skibba and Undark                                July 12, 2020                              (theatlantic.com)

• On April 22, with the successful launch of a military reconnaissance satellite, Iran joined a growing list of nations having weapons and military systems in orbit. In April, Russia tested a missile program designed to destroy satellites, and in March 2019, India launched an anti-satellite weapon. Many more countries now have space programs, including Iran, North Korea, France, Japan, and Israel.

• Two think-tanks, e.g.: the Secure World Foundation in Broomfield, Colorado, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., both released reports this year (see SWF report here; see CSIS report here) pointing to an increase in countries deploying satellite-destroying weaponry and disruptive technologies that could put all peaceful activities in space at risk. Many of these technologies could ratchet up an arms race or spark an actual skirmish in space.

• “What worries us in the international community is that there aren’t necessarily any guardrails for how people are going to start interfering with others’ space systems,” said Daniel Porras, a space security fellow at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva.

• Thousands of satellites already circle low-Earth orbit (below an altitude of 1,200 miles) to provide key services such as internet access, GPS signals, long-distance communications, and weather information. More than half of those satellites are from the U.S., and most of the rest are from China and Russia. Any missile that smashes into a satellite would disperse thousands of bits of debris. “If you create debris, it might just as well come back and hit one of your own satellites,” says David Burbach, a national security affairs expert at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. “So I think we’re pretty unlikely to see countries actually use those capabilities.”

• When China conducted an anti-satellite missile test in 2007, it created a massive cloud of space junk that drew international condemnation. India’s engineers tried to limit debris from their recent test by conducting it at a low altitude, so that Earth’s gravity would pull the pieces down and they would burn up on descent. But some pieces were flung up to the International Space Station’s orbit. There were no collisions; as of February, only 15 trackable pieces of debris remained in orbit.

• A number of countries are developing new military technologies for space. France is working on laser beams that could dazzle another country’s satellite, preventing it from taking pictures of classified targets. North Korea is studying how to jam radio frequency signals sent to or from a satellite. And Iran is devising cyberattacks that could interfere with satellite systems. Meanwhile, the big three space heavyweights – the U.S., Russia, and China – are already capable of all three approaches, according to the SWF report.

• The big three have also begun to develop satellites that can be used as surveillance devices or weapons. A satellite could maneuver within miles of a rival’s classified satellite, snap photos of equipment and transmit the pictures down to Earth. Or the satellite could sidle up to another and spray its counterpart’s lenses or cover its solar panels, cutting off power and rendering it useless. Russia may be ahead with this technology. Last fall, Space Force General John “Jay” Raymond accused Russia of deploying a satellite near a U.S. spy satellite, which he called a “potentially threatening behavior.”

• The SWF report notes that an incident or misunderstanding could escalate tensions if it’s perceived as an attack. With the new Space Force, the U.S. Defense Department seeks to “strengthen deterrence” and improve capabilities to “defend our vital assets in space,” says Space Force spokesperson Christina Hoggatt. The U.S. military will focus on making satellites more resilient to attack, however, rather than developing offensive weapons, said Hoggatt.

• Tense regional relationships could be particularly unpredictable. For example, if North Korean leaders found themselves in a standoff with South Korea and the U.S., they might launch and detonate a nuclear weapon in space where the radiation would disable most satellites. The U.N. and other international groups – including SWF and the Outer Space Institute, a global research organization based in British Columbia – are working to avoid such scenarios.

• Existing international laws offer little guidance. While the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibit weapons of mass destruction in space, they don’t explicitly limit other kinds of space weapons, tests, or military space forces. So until non-interference rules involving space weaponry are hammered out, unexpected satellite tests will inevitably fuel speculation and paranoia.

 

On April 22, after several failed attempts, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced a successful launch of what it described as a military reconnaissance satellite. That satellite joined a growing list of weapons and military systems in orbit, including those from Russia (which in April tested a missile program designed to destroy satellites) and India (which launched an anti-satellite weapon in March 2019).

Experts like Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation (SWF), a nonpartisan think tank based in Broomfield, Colorado, worry that these developments—all confirmed by the newly rebranded United States Space Force—threaten to lift earthly conflicts to new heights and put all space activities, peaceful and military alike, at risk. Researchers at SWF and at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., both released reports this year on the rapidly evolving state of affairs. The reports suggest that the biggest players in space have upgraded their military abilities, including satellite-destroying weapons and technologies that disrupt spacecraft, by, for instance, blocking data collection or transmission.

Many of these technologies, if deployed, could ratchet up an arms race and even spark a skirmish in space, the SWF and CSIS researchers caution. Blowing up a single satellite scatters debris throughout the atmosphere, said Weeden, co-editor of the SWF report. Such an explosion could hurl projectiles in the paths of other spacecraft and threaten the accessibility of space for everyone.

“Those are absolutely the two best reports to be looking at to get a sense of what’s going on in the space community,” said David Burbach, a national security affairs expert at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, who was not involved in the new research.

Today, Burbach added, the world is very different compared with the Cold War era, when access to space was essentially limited to the United States and the Soviet Union. Many more countries now have space programs, including India, Iran, North Korea, France, Japan, and Israel.

Despite this expansion—and the array of new space weapons—relevant policies and regulatory bodies have remained stagnant. “What worries us in the international community is that there aren’t necessarily any guardrails for how people are going to start interfering with others’ space systems,” said Daniel Porras, a space security fellow at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva. “There are no rules of engagement.”

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Swiss Start-up ClearSpace Has Support from Microsoft to Clean Up Space

Article by Microsoft Schweiz                            June 22, 2020                            (news.microsoft.com)

• With a rapidly increasing number of satellites launched every year, the population of man-made debris orbiting Earth has exploded over the last ten years. Today there are more than 3,000 failed satellites orbiting Earth. These uncontrollable objects present risks of explosions or collisions with other satellites.

• After repeated notifications by the US Air Force Space Observation Center of collision risks between the SwissCube and other Space objects, the European Space Agency selected ClearSpace to execute the first-ever capture and removal of an uncontrolled satellite orbiting at 7 Kilometers per second at more than 600 Kilometer above sea level. The mission, called ClearSpace-1, is scheduled for 2025. In the meantime, ClearSpace, based in Ecublens, Switzerland, will focus on developing state-of-the-art technologies for sensor fusion, autonomous navigation and space robotics, integrating them into an agile satellite chaser.

• Luc Piguet, CEO and founder of ClearSpace, said, “ClearSpace-1…is the first milestone on the road to a future Space debris removal service at an affordable cost. …We are honored and delighted to have been selected for the Global Social Entrepreneurship Program and look forward to taking our collaboration to the next level – benefitting from Microsoft’s deep expertise and global reach while pursuing our quest in a cutting-edge, secure environment.”

• Andrew Reid, Head of the Swiss Microsoft for Startups program is very excited about the support from Microsoft saying, “The fact that ClearSpace has been selected to join Microsoft’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Program is a well-deserved recognition of the achievements and commitment of the entire team. This enables us to support ClearSpace on a global level and with even more international resources.”

 

Today there are more than 3,000 failed satellites orbiting Earth. These uncontrollable objects present risks of explosions or collisions with other satellites. With a rapidly increasing number of satellites launched every year, the population of man-made debris orbiting Earth has exploded over the last ten years. Keeping space clean in order to ensure sustainable growth in the future has become a huge challenge.

                         Luc Piguet

ClearSpace is committed to solve this problem. The international team, which brings together many years of experience from science and research (EPFL, MIT), agencies (ESA, Nasa/JPL and DLR) and major prime integrators (Airbus, Thales, Ruag, SSTL and others), can also count on the support of a high-ranking Advisory Board, including Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier. The idea emerged from the joint work of some of the founding members of ClearSpace at the EPFL Space Center after the launch of the SwissCube satellite in 2009. The team decided to tackle the problem following repeated notifications by the US Air Force Space observation center of collision risks between the SwissCube and other Space objects.

Pioneering the capture and removal of space debris

The European Space Agency (ESA) has decided to break the ground into sustainable Space development by pioneering this landmark mission and selected ClearSpace to lead it. ClearSpace’s mission is to execute the first-ever capture and removal of an uncontrolled satellite, that is orbiting at 7 Kilometers per second at more than 600 Kilometer above sea level. The team, in collaboration with renowned industrial partners, will focus on developing state-of-the-art technologies for sensor fusion, autonomous navigation and space robotics, integrating them into an agile chaser. The mission called ClearSpace-1 is scheduled for 2025.

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