Russia shot down one of its Soviet-era satellites in a weapons test on Monday, sending more than 1,500 traceable debris in space. This forces the astronauts on International space station to shelter in about two hours in two spaceships that could send them back to Earth in the event of an impending collision. Although the ISS is currently in clear condition, experts say the situation is still dangerous. Satellite operators will likely need to navigate around this new cloud of space junk for several years and possibly decades.
In fact, the latest Russian missile test may have increased the total space junk, consisting of pieces of rockets and satellites discarded in Earth’s orbit, as much as 10 percent. These debris are rotating at lightning speed and are at risk of hitting active satellites that power critical technologies, such as GPS navigation and weather forecast. Space debris like this is actually so dangerous that national security officials fear it could be used as a weapon in space missions. a future space war. In fact, the US State Department said Monday’s missile test was proof that Russia is willing to create debris that endangers the safety of all nations operating in Earth’s orbit. low altitude, and even threaten to disrupt the peace in space.
These risks only add to concerns that we are a long way from solving the problem of space junk, especially as foreign government and private companies launch. thousands of new satellites into orbit – will definitely create more space junk.
Monday’s events, however, were more politically intense than your average space debris incident. The Russian government has introduced the so-called anti-satellite test ASAT), as the name implies, is designed to destroy satellites in orbit. Launch from a website a few hundred miles north of Moscow, missile attack a Russia’s inactive spy satellite called Kosmos-1408 has been orbiting Earth since 1982. The satellite has now broken into thousands of pieces and is currently orbiting Earth at about 17,000 miles per hour, passing by the International Space Station. about every 90 minutes. While astronauts no longer need shelter, the threat to the ISS or other satellites has not disappeared.
“I am outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing act,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “Given its long and long history in human flight, it is inconceivable that Russia would endanger not only the American astronauts and international partners on the ISS, but also the astronauts on board. their family”. Mr. Nelson added that Russia’s actions were “reckless and dangerous” and also put those aboard China’s Tiangong space station in trouble.
While Russia admitted to destroying a satellite in a recent test, the country’s Ministry of Defense event emphasis did not put the ISS at risk.
Russia is one of the four countries, including India, the US and China, to blow up their own satellites use anti-satellite missiles. This trend is alarming because governments with ASAT systems can use the technology to attack other countries’ satellites, turning space into a battlefield. But even if countries only target their own space objects, Russia’s missile test shows how governments can also use anti-satellite missiles to create debris. endanger any country, company or person in orbit. And again, once this fragment is created, it can remain a threat for years. Just last week, the ISS had to adjust its height about a mile to avoid hitting space debris from a satellite that China shot down in 2007.
The space junk problem is also getting bigger. Currently, there are more than 100 million pieces of junk in space greater than one millimeter orbits the Earth, according to NASA. And since May, the Ministry of Defense monitor more than 27,000 larger orbital debris, but even smaller pieces can pose a great danger to other satellites and space stations because of the extremely high velocity with which they move.
“I don’t think you can overstate how dangerous space debris is at the moment,” Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor at the US Air Force’s School of Aeronautics and Space Studies, told Recode. this. “As you create more shards, the chance of that shard hitting other things and creating more shards increases.”
What makes the space junk problem particularly difficult is that no one has come forward to take responsibility for it. Follow Outer Space Treaty, the foundation of international space law, states are still the owners of any objects they send into space, so technically Russia still owns all the satellite debris created from Monday’s missile test. There is no global consensus on what penalties for create trash space should be, tracking and allocating different debris to the space activities of different countries remains difficult.
Government agencies and private space companies are technological development to remove space junk, such as grids can catch debris in orbit and device that would push the satellites into the atmosphere to disintegrate. But there is concern that governments could use similar tools to take down other countries’ satellites. At the same time, the cost of creating space junk – and getting rid of it – is rarely factored into the decision to launch a vehicle or satellite into space.
“In many ways, this is the same kind of problem, an environmental problem that we have been solving on Earth in many forms,” said Akhil Rao, an economist at Middlebury who has studied space debris, told Recode. “We have struggled with the collapse of fisheries, we have struggled with atmospheric pollution, [and] We’ve been struggling with ozone depletion. ”
Right now, the best way we have right now to greatly improve the risk of orbital debris is to not create space junk in the first place. That could happen through better international cooperation or the creation of new economic incentives for private companies, but the sooner it happens, the better. While we can usually navigate around space junk that already exists, that will become increasingly difficult as more debris accumulates. And if we don’t find a solution in time, we could end up in a situation where low Earth orbit is so filled with space junk that it’s inevitable.