The International Space Station just avoided space debris in orbit, illustrating the danger to the orbital station and smaller satellites from accumulating space debris in Low Earth Orbit. Roscosmos announced that the International Space Station dived by nearly 300 meters for nearly three minutes to avoid a piece of space debris left over from a U.S. space launch in 1994 before resuming its normal orbit.
The announcement was made by Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, and it is the latest in a series of incidents linked to the rapidly growing cloud of space debris surrounding the Earth.
A spacewalk was recently postponed by NASA due to concerns about space debris, and the ISS had to maneuver out of the way of a piece from a disabled Chinese satellite last month.
Last month, Russia tested an anti-satellite missile, destroyed a disused Russian satellite and forced astronauts aboard the ISS to seal themselves in docked Soyuz and SpaceX Dragon Crew capsules for safety while the station flew through the waste field. India conducted an anti-satellite missile test in early 2019, generating a waste field that is now in orbit around the Earth.
As mentioned earlier, the United States has also previously shot down a satellite for security reasons, while China destroyed one of its own in 2007.
And just like today’s event, space launches often leave booster rocket parts, robes and other debris typically falling back to Earth and burning up in the atmosphere; however, not always. This waste can remain in orbit for decades after crashing into space and poses a significant hazard.
For generations, space debris can prevent humans from accessing space.
All you need to know is how fast things are flying up there to understand why space debris is so worrying. According to NASA, objects travel in orbits at speeds of up to 17,500 mph (approximately 28,160 km / h), and because virtually all space debris up there is made of metal, any kind of contact is inherently dangerous.
Assuming that the objects are moving at the same speeds, comparable collision speeds can be reduced, but slamming the ISS into a piece of old satellite the size of an air conditioner at 75 mph (approx. 120 km / h) is still more than enough to do significant damage and perhaps jeopardize the structural integrity of the ISS.
Even smaller fragments can be harmful. There are about 23,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball in orbit, and being hit by a piece of baseball-sized metal debris traveling at 200 mph (320 km / h) can easily puncture the side of a spacecraft. or satellite.
In fact, it has already destroyed several satellites and created even more space debris, triggering a cascading chain reaction of space debris, which many worry will result in the development of Kessler syndrome.
Waste in orbit gains its own momentum as a consequence of this process and gradually destroys an ever-increasing number of satellites that only serve to extend the cloud of high-speed fluttering waste until the Low Earth Orbit is completely useless.
There are half a million particles the size of a marble or larger, and over 100 million particles smaller than a millimeter in diameter. According to NASA, several space shuttle windows had to be replaced due to damage caused by small stains of paint that were later identified.
“In fact, millimeter-sized orbital remnants represent the highest end-of-mission risk for most low-Earth robotic spacecraft,” says NASA. If the Low Earth Orbit becomes a metal hurricane with 17,500 mph wind, it is impossible to try to go through it.
Under a post-Kessler environment, you would have to accelerate as you climb into the Low Earth Orbit, so any spacecraft or satellite that you try to put in orbit would have to do so under a barrage of debris that travels hundreds or even thousands of miles per hour faster than what you’re trying to orbit.
That is, if you use a rocket and put it in space, but then the rocket is destroyed by cosmic debris while you are on the road, leaving you with even more debris to fight.
Finally, you can not lay anything new out in the room more than you can avoid all the raindrops on your own by avoiding each and every one of them. We would have to wait for the waste cloud to fall into the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, a process that can take decades.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former NATO Secretary General, wrote in The Financial Times on Thursday that there is an urgent need for rules to secure space for humanity in the future.
“Unless we change course,” he writes, “space’s possibilities for improving our lives on earth can be shut off for generations.”
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