Since 1957, humans have launched more than 9,600 satellites, and in the early days of the space age no one thought about the fate of these machines at the end of their service.
In its recently published annual report, the European Space Agency (ESA) emphasized the increasing risks of space waste and called for serious thinking about finding solutions to reduce space pollution.
Agency experts confirmed that the vast majority of old satellites and metal pieces are stuck in orbits around the Earth, and thousands of years may remain there, and they are a source of threat to satellites and all operating devices in orbit around the Earth. Over time, the number, mass and area of debris will increase steadily, threatening the human future in space.
130 million pieces of debris
The European Agency estimates that there are about 34,000 pieces over 10 centimeters in size, and more than 130 million objects below this size floating in space, with a total weight of about 8,800 tons. This number will increase as more rockets and satellites are launched, and as debris spreads.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the international community began to take the problem of space waste seriously. Guidelines were developed to encourage operators to equip satellites with debris mitigation systems.
Although not mandatory, European Space Agency research shows that between 60% and 90% of the new satellites launched since 2000 in the so-called geostationary orbit, which is located at an altitude of 35,786 km above the equator, complied with these regulations. .
The solution that operators have found at this altitude is to use the satellites’ fuel reserves to leave the geostationary orbit at the end of their service, and join orbits in which no active satellites are operating.
But the scene in low orbits, located less than 2,000 km above the equator, looks different, as the agency notes in its report that only between 5% and 10% of the satellites and devices operating there have complied with debris mitigation measures.
It could get worse with the start of one of the most ambitious low-orbit projects, Elon Musk’s Starlink, which aims to launch a constellation of 42,000 satellites to provide high-flow internet around the world. Nearly 700 of them have already been launched since May of last year.
The agency says in a statement that it is working to find solutions to the problem of space waste, and has adopted a project to collect space debris, which is expected to be launched in 2025.
It is also seeking to develop technology to automate collision avoidance maneuvers, so that human controllers do not need to track every piece of equipment or a satellite in low orbits that has been turned off and controlled.
The agency hopes that some measures, such as the space sustainability rating it is seeking to establish, will help countries develop space technologies that have minimal debris mitigation systems.
“Space debris is a problem for the near-Earth environment on a global scale, to which all spacefaring nations have contributed, and the solution can only be a globally supported solution,” the agency wrote in its report.
Source : Australian Press + websites