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Thread: Will space debris make space exploration impossible

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    Will space debris make space exploration impossible

    Space debris can make future space missions impossible

    http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/ene...cle5791922.ece

    There may soon be so much debris in orbit around the Earth that future space missions could become impossible, scientists have warned.

    Researchers at the European Space Agency (ESA) have said that the amount of debris from man-made objects is about to reach “criticality”.

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    Are you asking or stating? The potential threat is real if you make no assumptions about how we will handle this going forward. Because of the reality of this threat, the various space agencies and other groups are exploring how to prevent this issue. I would not trust the popular press to state the situation accurately in their headlines.
    Forming opinions as we speak

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    Will space debris make space exploration impossible
    No. Space travel is an always will be dangerous; space debris increases that danger. It is not at a point anywhere near "impossible" at present.

    Possibly a Kessler syndrome event could occur at some point in the future.
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    There's actually nothing new here. Even the article's e.deorbit concept started in 2012.

    The idea of accumulation of space junk has gone on much longer than that. It probably hit an all time high in newsworthiness after the Chinese anti-satellite test several years ago.

    I do hope the agencies continue to work on this issue. It is a problem.

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    Can we really afford to be complacent. A piece of space junk or a meteor hit at just the right angle and speed at a satellite in GEO could set a cascade of events, making that area unusable. The 'Kessler syndrome' for GEO.
    Last edited by selvaarchi; 2014-Mar-18 at 01:14 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    Can we really afford to be complacent.
    Who exactly do you think is complacent?
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Who exactly do you think is complacent?
    There is a lot of talk about cleaning up the space junk but it still remains that - talk. no concrete action to speak of to date.

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    There is a lot of talk about cleaning up the space junk but it still remains that - talk. no concrete action to speak of to date.
    That's because we still don't have a practical method for doing so.
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    It would be fun to have a space salvaging mission partially subsidized by private individuals who would like to own a piece of space junk. Maybe someday.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    That's because we still don't have a practical method for doing so.
    US, Russia and China have the ability to "capture" used satellites, and give them a nudge to send them to be burnt as they enter the earth's atmosphere. That will be a start before looking at how to deal with the smaller pieces "floating" around earth.

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    US, Russia and China have the ability to "capture" used satellites, and give them a nudge to send them to be burnt as they enter the earth's atmosphere. That will be a start before looking at how to deal with the smaller pieces "floating" around earth.
    But in impractical ways. Mostly involving expensive launches that themselves create more debris, and risk knocking bits off the satellites that can also add to the debris.
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    Like oil platforms that have to have disposal plan (once it completes depleting the oil) before it gets the go ahead to be built, major space faring nations should also have plans to dispose of satellites safely before they are launched. In other words the disposal cost should be part of the cost benefit analysis to build that satellite.

    The three major space powers have already shown their capabilities to approach and grab/disable satellites - more as offensive space weapons. Time to use those same capabilities for the good of mankind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    Like oil platforms that have to have disposal plan (once it completes depleting the oil) before it gets the go ahead to be built, major space faring nations should also have plans to dispose of satellites safely before they are launched. In other words the disposal cost should be part of the cost benefit analysis to build that satellite.
    I agree, but what about the stuff already up there or those not willing to obey the regulations?

    The three major space powers have already shown their capabilities to approach and grab/disable satellites - more as offensive space weapons. Time to use those same capabilities for the good of mankind.
    If you mean anti-sat weapons, those create more debris by impacting their target.

    If you mean actually tracking down every bit of garbage, doing an orbital rendezvous and capturing it for de-orbit, the likely cost using current technology would probably be far more than any nation is willing to spend. We need to develop a way to get the stuff down without sending a vast fleet of rockets up.
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    This has a pretty good discussion of active removal:

    http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Op...Debris_removal

    The idea is to focus on high mass objects in orbits where there's already a lot of space junk - so these are the things that would be most likely to produce a lot more space junk.

    There's a some interesting points here too:

    http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/Re...mediation.html

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    Like oil platforms that have to have disposal plan (once it completes depleting the oil) before it gets the go ahead to be built, major space faring nations should also have plans to dispose of satellites safely before they are launched. In other words the disposal cost should be part of the cost benefit analysis to build that satellite.
    I'll put in a plug for my favorite anime - a really good hard science fiction show called Planetes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetes

    Space debris is a primary plot point, where (in the fairly near future) companies are required to pay for the disposal of their satellites. Of course, they don't like to because of the expense, so they try to spend as little as possible for it, and being in the debris section is an unpopular job.

    It has (currently not possible) fusion drives, allowing crewed spacecraft to pick up satellites. That part is unrealistic - almost certainly it would be done with robots even with high delta-v fusion drives available - but that's pretty much necessary to make the story about people. It's extremely hard science fiction, where my concerns are mostly quibbles.

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    Have you seen Space Brothers? That is another super hard science fiction anime.

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    I see Van Rijn already put in a link to Johnson's orbital debris site. They also publish a newsletter which you can subscribe to or read the archives of. Don't expect shattering (hah) news there, but it does give an impression of the effort already put into this problem. Complacent? I don't think so.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    I agree, but what about the stuff already up there or those not willing to obey the regulations?



    If you mean anti-sat weapons, those create more debris by impacting their target.

    If you mean actually tracking down every bit of garbage, doing an orbital rendezvous and capturing it for de-orbit, the likely cost using current technology would probably be far more than any nation is willing to spend. We need to develop a way to get the stuff down without sending a vast fleet of rockets up.
    Like old oil platforms, companies had to pay to remove them when the new environmental policies came into place. Let us start with redundant/expired satellites and for new satellites, make it compulsory to have enough fuel to de-orbit them.

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    Might be awkward though since it could be hard to guarantee the retros would work after the life time of the satellite.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Glom View Post
    Might be awkward though since it could be hard to guarantee the retros would work after the life time of the satellite.
    Agreed, that is where the offensive satellites that can capture other satellites could come in useful. We need to get rid these before they get hit be space junk/meteorites and cause even more problems.

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    Some information on work the Europeans are doing in this area

    http://www.spacemart.com/reports/The...Tests_999.html

    The first phase of this programme aims to establish the basis for building the future European system that will monitor the waste from other missions that is floating freely in space. There are an estimated 700,000 objects orbiting our planet in an uncontrolled manner, and this poses a serious risk to our missions and operational satellites.

    The tests performed at Santorcaz (Madrid) had the aim of verifying that the technology used by the radar system is mature enough to be used in the design of a definitive surveillance system..

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    The Space Review has an article commenting on a a draft UN report "International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities". Lots of info on space debris. I have also included the link to another comment on the report from the US view point.

    The UN report which is a pdf report

    eeas.europa.eu/non-proliferation-and-disarmament/pdf/space_code_conduct_draft_vers_16_sept_2013_en.pdf

    The Spacer review article

    http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2487/1

    It is very likely in the interests of all who benefit from space—individuals, businesses, and states—to see the establishment of norms that “safeguard the continued peaceful and sustainable use of outer space for current and future generations,” that recognizes “space debris affects the sustainable use of outer space, constitutes a hazard to outer space activities” and seeks “to establish and implement policies and procedures to minimise the risk of accidents in space, collisions between space objects or any form of harmful interference with another State’s peaceful exploration, and use, of outer space”?1
    And the other article

    http://bt.e-ditionsbyfry.com/display...d_issue=204257

    The International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, which succeeded the European Union code of conduct and was publicly released as a draft in September 2013, represents an evolution from the original EU code of conduct. The EU code was rejected by the United States for several reasons, including national security concerns, but even though the code of conduct has been substantially overhauled it still does not offer the United States tangible benefits and potentially places greater burdens and restrictions on the United States.

    The issue of space debris is a substantial focus of the code. Section 4 focuses specifically on the issue and would require a subscribing state to refrain from actions that could create space debris, to take appropriate measures to minimize collisions and to implement the U.N. Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, which were endorsed by the United Nations in General Assembly Resolution 62/217 in 2007. Considering the impact and potential future threat of space debris, this a valid set of principles to abide by.

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    Like old oil platforms, companies had to pay to remove them when the new environmental policies came into place. Let us start with redundant/expired satellites and for new satellites, make it compulsory to have enough fuel to de-orbit them.
    Glad to note that Europe is doing just that

    http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Ai...tract_999.html

    The MetOp-SG award was delayed by ESA last fall, apparently due to the embarrassment caused when its flagship environmental satellite (Envisat) died in orbit and became a long-term debris threat with a century as its estimated decay time.

    According to Space News, over the past six months the two satellite bidders had to make design modifications in order to incorporate the ability to de-orbit over the Pacific Ocean upon retirement. These changes include the integration of larger fuel tanks, which is considered a small price for leaving popular orbits a little less cluttered and reducing the possibility of debris falling on populated areas.

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    Glad to note that Europe is doing just that
    So is the US.
    The LEO satellites are the ones destined for De-orbit. The higher ones just need a parking orbit.
    Here's NASA's practices (End of life is page 3)
    Also; commercial carriers to geosync are required to provide for moving to a parking orbit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    So is the US.
    The LEO satellites are the ones destined for De-orbit. The higher ones just need a parking orbit.
    Here's NASA's practices (End of life is page 3)
    Also; commercial carriers to geosync are required to provide for moving to a parking orbit.
    Why can we not have this, as an UN mandated space policy, for all space faring countries to follow

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    Why can we not have this, as an UN mandated space policy, for all space faring countries to follow
    Because there's only a handfull of countries with spaceflight that would be concerned about it and it's not an emotional or humanitarian issue. Most nations probably don't care.

    The space treaty that was signed was because it addressed space borne weapons directly.
    There was also a moon treaty in 1979. There's not much bite to it, because only those handful have signed and care about it.
    Last edited by NEOWatcher; 2014-Apr-09 at 03:20 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    Because there's only a handfull of countries with spaceflight that would be concerned about it and it's not an emotional or humanitarian issue. Most nations probably don't care.
    There already at least 10 countries that send satellites into LEO and the list will only get bigger.

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    There already at least 10 countries that send satellites into LEO and the list will only get bigger.
    But it's still a small concern for the UN as a whole.
    It's probably more of a "you guys work it out for yourselves".

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    Quote Originally Posted by selvaarchi View Post
    Why can we not have this, as an UN mandated space policy, for all space faring countries to follow
    Not everyone believes that the UN could or should have that kind of authority. An unenforceable goodwill treaty or agreement between the specific actors involved (countries or otherwise) is probably the best you can hope for.
    Forming opinions as we speak

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    So is the US.
    The LEO satellites are the ones destined for De-orbit. The higher ones just need a parking orbit.
    Here's NASA's practices (End of life is page 3)
    Also; commercial carriers to geosync are required to provide for moving to a parking orbit.
    Came across this article and bingo the UN has one based on the US guideline. The main player against it's adoption is - you guessed it - USA.

    http://www.spacenews.com/article/opi...ode-of-conduct

    The International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, which succeeded the European Union code of conduct and was publicly released as a draft in September 2013, represents an evolution from the original EU code of conduct. The EU code was rejected by the United States for several reasons, including national security concerns, but even though the code of conduct has been substantially overhauled it still does not offer the United States tangible benefits and potentially places greater burdens and restrictions on the United States.
    Comparatively, the United Nations adopted its voluntary guidelines, which are heavily based on the guidelines established by NASA, in 2007.

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