Should space waste be a concern?


Recently, the planet Earth was concerned with falling from the wreckage of the Chinese rocket that was out of control, giving the possibility that it fell anywhere, where there was even the possibility of it falling in some inhabited area, and that was one of the major concerns that existed around the famous “Long March 5B”, Which happily fell into the ocean on Sunday morning (09/05/2021). The final resting place for the rocket debris, near the Maldives, is a few hundred kilometers from the extreme south of India.

As nobody was injured or did not cause a serious accident, practically the “Problem” was disregarded, but I spent a few days thinking: What if something worse had happened? Would the countries take other measures? Would China be crucified? What is the amount of space debris that exists and that tomorrow could be a danger to planet Earth? There are many questions, but let's get to the point.

Countries will continue to launch rockets with various payloads into the sky, and the pace is likely to increase as launches become cheaper. This ensures that space debris will be a growing concern. It is already a threat here on the ground as there was previously no guarantee that the Chinese rocket would land without causing damage to an empty piece of the ocean. But it is also a problem a few hundred miles up, where the density of dead satellites and disused rockets can become a barrier to space exploration.

Worrying threats from the skies are hardly new, and as much as we don't want to accept it, nature has stupidly bombarded our planet with rocks for more than 4 billion years or since Earth existed. But, as the driver of “Long March 5B”Made it clear, humans are giving the cosmos real competition. The human race has been putting hardware in orbit at a rate of about 100 releases per year , and most of them will eventually come back down one day.

Therefore, everything that is sent to Earth's low orbit (the most coveted region of nearby space) is eventually slowed by friction as it flies through the rarefied air found a few hundred miles above. This drag triggers a spiral of accelerated death in which the hardware plunge into the denser atmosphere below. Eventually, the object will burn completely or, if it is large enough, its charred remains will shatter on the floor. To be a notion (In 1961, falling debris killed a cow in Cuba).

In Angola, in other words, we would say “Everything that goes up, one day falls”. But before building an air raid shelter, it is instructive to consider the chances that a dead satellite or spent rocket could return to land. There are currently more than 6.000 satellites orbiting the Earth. Of course, half of them are dead, but this distinction will be of little consolation if one of them ever falls on the roof of our house, with so many objects above our heads, the rain of debris will continue.

Is there any way to prevent this problem?

Yes, there is a solution that can be adopted. Imagine equipping each large satellite with an auxiliary propellant. When the satellite reaches its expiration date, the propellant fires and sends the extinct satellite upwards to a more spacious graveyard orbit, where the atmosphere is much rarer. He could be there safely for millions of years, out of sight, out of mind and, hopefully, out of the way to return to land.

ÉIt is obvious that installing this type of system around a launch pad costs money, both the direct expense of the necessary technology and the opportunity cost of sacrificing the additional payload. But countries can agree to do this, considering it a tax for the common good. Other proposals do not require individual membership. For example, the space industry could build a fleet of specialized satellites equipped with giant nets or harpoons to collect debris. Alternatively, you can use high-powered lasers to change the orbits of hardware unwanted or blow it up into pieces small enough to burn completely on its way down.
In any case, doing nothing about space debris will not be an option for much longer. This is due to a destructive chain reaction described by the NASA scientist Donald Kessler in the late 1970s. As the density of space debris increases, the chance of collision also increases. And collisions produce more debris, which leads to even more collisions.


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