Humans routinely send spacecraft into orbit to ensure services on the ground and to explore other planets. This extraordinary ability comes with a great responsibility: our space activity risks contaminating the space surrounding the Earth, but also other planets and moons that have potential for past or present life.
Space benefits humanity by making many of our activities on Earth possible: telecommunication, weather forecasting, geolocation through the global navigation satellite system used for ground, maritime and air traffic, as well as remote sensing for monitoring the health of our planet. At the same time, scientific missions increase our knowledge of our solar system, while enabling the development of new technologies, science and space exploration.
However, increased space activity comes at a cost, both in terms of fuel consumption for spacecraft and space debris produced. This debris is in the form of spacecraft abandoned at the end of its operational life, or remainders of space missions and upper stages of launchers, along with all the fragments resulting from collisions and explosions in orbit.
The very existence of the more than 900,000 pieces of debris larger than 1 centimetre in size – large enough to damage operational satellites due to their high orbital speed – poses a serious threat to the sustainability of space activities. The amount of space debris has been rising exponentially, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
An environmental problem
Interestingly, the growth in space debris has followed a similar trend to many other environmental stressors such as carbon dioxide, ocean acidification, tropical forest loss and terrestrial biosphere degradation. Indeed, all these issues have several aspects in common. Given their global nature, the solutions require strong international cooperation for defining mitigation measures. Indicators of this problem that are relevant, accepted, credible, easy to monitor and robust against manipulation and errors must be agreed upon internationally.
The space debris problem also compels us to use radar and visual telescopes to determine the orbit of space debris, and to develop mathematical and numerical approaches to model their evolution in space and time, as well as tools for collision-avoidance and end-of-life manoeuvres. Many uncertainties must be taken into account in the predictions, such as the Earth’s atmosphere and its interaction with the solar activity, the physical characteristics of uncooperative objects, and untraceable fragments, which make it impossible to achieve a perfect prediction of the debris’ orbit and evolution.
Image Credit: ESA
News This Week
Silver and titanium nanomaterials present in wastewater may have toxic effects on crustaceans and fish cells
You may not always think about it when you do your laundry or flush the toilet; but whatever you eat, wear or apply on your skin ends up in wastewater and eventually reaches the [...]
Boston University researchers have developed a new, "intelligent" metamaterial – which costs less than ten dollars to build – that could revolutionize magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), making the entire MRI process faster, safer, and [...]
We can directly see the hidden world of atoms thanks to electron microscopes, first developed in the 1930s. Today, electron microscopes, which use beams of electrons to illuminate and magnify a sample, have become [...]
In her inaugural podcast, Jamilee interviews Frank Boehm of NanoApps Medical Inc and NanoApps Athletics Inc. From Jamilee's podcast: Welcome to the first episode of "In a Click". On todays show I chat with [...]
“We’ll have nanobots that… connect our neocortex to a synthetic neocortex in the cloud. Our thinking will be a…. biological and non-biological hybrid.” Ray Kurzweil, TED 2014 UPDATE - October 30 2019 Since [...]
We humans have evolved a rich repertoire of communication, from gesture to sophisticated languages. All of these forms of communication link otherwise separate individuals in such a way that they can share and express [...]
Ultrasensitive nanoscale optical probes have been created by scientists from UC Santa Cruz, to observe the bioelectric activity of neurons and other excitable cells. This innovative readout technology could allow researchers to analyze how [...]
Advances made during recent clinical trials mean that those suffering from celiac disease may soon be able to reintroduce gluten back into their diet. This breakthrough is down to a progressive new treatment that [...]
A new way of editing the code of life could correct 89% of the errors in DNA that cause disease, say US scientists. The technology, called prime editing, has been described as a "genetic [...]
A research team of Ehime University paved a way to achieve unexplored III-V semiconductor nanostructures. They grew branched GaAs nanowires with a nontoxic Bi element employing characteristic structural modifications correlated with metallic droplets, as [...]
While many people love colorful photos of landscapes, flowers or rainbows, some biomedical researchers treasure vivid images on a much smaller scale – as tiny as one-thousandth the width of a human hair. To [...]
Energy is information. Lengthening the time during which a system is capable of retaining energy before losing it to the local environment is a key goal for the development of quantum information. This interval [...]
Just because a model catalyst effectively drives a reaction in a well-controlled environment doesn’t mean it will work as well under more practical conditions. For years, scientists have strived to predict catalysts’ performance. In [...]
Particles that are mere nanometers in size are at the forefront of scientific research today. They come in many different shapes: rods, spheres, cubes, vesicles, S-shaped worms and even donut-like rings. What makes them [...]