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A Garbage Bag In Space

October 13, 2010

From MACLEANS
By Jane Swittzer

When clutter consumes your basement, a well-executed cleaning does the trick. When human-generated junk clogs the Earth’s orbit, things get a little more complicated.

Low Earth orbit space debris has increased since the dawn of the space age. But the wake-up call came last year, when the U.S. Iridium 33 and Russian Kosmos 2251 collided. It was the first accidental collision between an operational and defunct satellite, and it produced large amounts of debris. The NASA orbital debris program office at the Johnson Space Center now predicts eight or nine such collisions will occur in the next 40 years.

This animation shows the number of tracked objects in Earth’s orbit,

and the movement of them.

 

 

An American firm has proposed a fix: scoop up spent rocket bodies, defunct satellites and fragments with a big net. Jerome Pearson, president of Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based STAR Inc., says the electrodynamic debris eliminator, or EDDE, would zip around using solar power and electrodynamic thrust. Then, using a tissue-dispenser-like net manager, it would release a net to envelop debris before tossing it in the ocean, putting it on a trajectory to burn up upon re-entry, or recycling the material for future use. Pearson envisions the EDDE launching on an existing rocket. Once in orbit, it would be controlled from a ground station. A full fleet would get rid of all debris under two kilos in seven years.

But responsibility over ownership is an issue, says Eugene Stansbery, of the NASA orbital debris program office. “The country that launches and operates a satellite is responsible for that debris, but there’s no treaty that says anybody should go and clean it up,” he says. With funding for EDDE development coming from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, security concerns have been raised. There is potential to develop space weapons to scoop operational satellites out of orbit, and Pearson says international treaties will need to be ironed out. A test flight will take place in 2014.

But, Pearson says, “if we want to be really serious about moving the space debris, we’ll need 10 or 12 EDDEs to get that down in a hurry.”

Space Debris & Junk orbiting Earth HD

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

 

Astronauts On Alert Again Tonight–Space Junk

Originally published March 16, 2009

Last week astronauts aboard the International Space Station hustled themselves into a Russian space capsule as protection from some errant space junk. Orbiting the Earth at approximately 17,500 mph nearly any object can cause catastrophic damage. Tonight another alert! A cloud of 300 odd pieces of debris from an ill-fated 1981 Russian satellite will be in the neighborhood.

NASA kept close tabs on an old piece of space junk Monday that threatened to come too close to the international space station as the shuttle Discovery raced toward the orbiting outpost for a 220-mile-high linkup.

What’s the deal? Why has space become so much more dangerous?

Though space itself is limitless, satellite are forced into specific and very limited areas close to the Earth. The math is a little weighty for me, but Johannes Kepler had this stuff figured out back in the pre-calculator 1600s. The US, Russia and now the Chinese haven’t been particularly diligent in keeping the area clean. The flotsam and jetsam of decades of space launches is getting more and more dense.

Just yesterday the Christian Science Monitor reported:

Currently, the US Air Force Space Command is tracking some 18,000 to 19,000 objects larger than about 4 inches that are orbiting Earth. Some specialists estimate that another 500,000 to 700,000 objects out there are smaller than 4 inches.Of the large objects, around 900 are satellites zipping around the Earth. Roughly 45 percent of these do so in low-Earth orbit, between 100 and 1,200 miles out. This leads to hundreds if not thousands of close approaches, or conjunctions, each day.

It’s not getting any better. It’s not going to get any better. There are proposals for a space code of conduct, but it’s a code not a rule–no teeth at all.

If you want to see how this sometimes plays out there are some amazing simulations courtesy of AGI that depict the February 10th collision of Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 high above Siberia. These are worth the download time.

Along with being the company that created some of the best Santa tracking videos in the business, AGI’s more serious side includes their Center for Space Standards & Innovation (CSSI) which produced these animations.

Alas, all the debris caused by the February crash is dwarfed by what’s up their orbiting aimlessly already. It’s a jungle up there!

Orbital Debris Education Package

View this document on Scribd

 

On Jan. 21, 2001, a Delta 2 third stage, known as a PAM-D (Payload Assist Module-Delta), reentered the atmosphere over the Middle East. Its titanium motor casing, weighing about 154 pounds (70 kilograms), slammed down in Saudi Arabia, while a titanium pressurant tank landed near Seguin, Texas, and the main propellant tank plunked down near Georgetown, Texas.

 

See more space junk that fell to the Earth HERE

 

everywhere man goes
he just makes it worse
he will make a toxic
waste dump
of the universe

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

8 Comments leave one →
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    October 13, 2010 2:33 pm

    everywhere man goes
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  1. A Garbage Bag In Space « Our Compass – Nice Obama photos – and quot;Transorbital Railroad and quot; Proposed — The Mars Society – and more « Satellites

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