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  • 06 February, 2023

  • 6 Min Read

Space Debris

Space Debris

  • The Indian government has revealed that 111 payloads and 105 pieces of space junk have been identified as being Indian spacecraft orbiting the planet.
  • Every piece of orbital debris will have an impact on space exploration and the next missions. The influence of expanding space debris on the space environment has also been the subject of numerous research by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

About space debris:

  • Space debris is the term for human-made items in Earth's orbit that are no longer functional.
  • The European Space Agency estimates that there are currently about 7,500 objects in orbit that are at least 4 inches wide.
  • This free-floating space junk poses a risk to active spacecraft and impacting it might render the satellites useless.
  • The term "Kessler Syndrome" was first used to characterise this issue in 1978 by scientist Donald Kessler of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
  • The paper claims that if there is too much space trash in orbit, it might start a domino effect where more and more objects hit and create additional space junk, eventually rendering Earth's orbit worthless.

Causes of Space Debris:

  • Satellites that are no longer in use: When a satellite's batteries run out or it experiences a technical issue, it is left drifting in space.
  • Equipment loss: Astronauts occasionally misplace tools or other items while on spacewalks. For instance, in 2008, astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper misplaced a box of gear.
  • Phases of a rocket: Some rocket stages crash to Earth shortly after takeoff and are lost in low orbits. The higher ones, however, are left to drift in space and occasionally explode because they still carry fuel leftovers. These explosions result in the production of thousands of fragments.
  • Weapons: Both the Soviet Union and the United States tested anti-satellite weapons in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1985, the United States utilised one of these weapons, such as Mission Shakti of India, to destroy a one-ton satellite (Sol wind).
  • Impacts of micrometeoroids: Micrometeoroids, which are dust-sized fragments of asteroids and comets, collide and naturally produce some trash.

Major impact:

  • Its performance is affected by collisions with navigation and communication satellites. Affect the navigation and communication systems.

  • Effects on astronauts' quality of life: Astronauts on the space station may be put in danger by space debris.
  • A portion of the trash in low Earth orbit will eventually lose altitude and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere, having an impact on the environment.
  • The operation of space stations and satellites is impacted: Performance will be affected by an increased risk of collision with and damage to active satellites and the International Space Station (ISS)

Measures Taken:

Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC):

  • IADC is a multilateral organization that was created in 1993 with the aim of coordinating responses to debris in Earth's orbit.
  • The "NEO-01" low-Earth orbit robot prototype has been launched by China.
  • It can gather space trash left over by other spacecraft thanks to its enormous net.
Kounotori experiment:
  • It is a Japanese experiment that uses an original method to get rid of space junk that is in orbit around the earth.
Get rid of the DEBRIS mission:
  • This satellite research effort aimed to demonstrate several methods for removing space trash. The Surrey Space Center from the University of Surrey oversaw the project.
United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS)
  • It was created by the General Assembly in 1959 with the intention of governing space exploration and usage for world peace, security, and economic growth.
India’s Effort:
  • The ISRO established the System for Safe and Sustainable Operations Management (IS 4 OM) in 2022 to continuously track objects that could collide with other spacecraft, forecast how space debris will develop over time, and reduce the risk that space debris poses.
  • In order to prevent collisions with other space objects in 2022, ISRO also performed 21 collision avoidance manoeuvres using active Indian space assets.
  • To monitor and lessen the threat posed by space debris, ISRO has also established a Center for Space Debris Research.
  • Another early warning system for space debris and other threats to Indian satellites is called "Project NETRA."
Way Forward
  • Many modern satellites are launched into elliptical orbits with perigees within the Earth's atmosphere, which ultimately results in their breakup.
  • To keep space trash to a minimum and allow us to effectively exploit Low-Earth orbit for future exploration, we need to be organized, cooperative actions on numerous fronts to both clear the current space debris and stop the formation of future pollution.
  • Enhancing Tracking and Monitoring The risks that space debris poses to operational satellites and manned space missions can be reduced by improving the tracking and monitoring of space debris.
  • Reusable Launch Vehicles: Switching from single-use rockets to reusable launch vehicles will help cut down on the amount of new debris produced during launches.

Source: The Indian Express

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