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
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for fast-produced and adaptable vaccines that could be equally distributed around the world. Developing an efficient mRNA vaccine that is effective, thermostable, and has fewer side effects strongly [...]
Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) have found their applications in various technologies and consumer products. Manipulating chemicals at the nanoscale range introduces unique characteristics to these materials and makes them desirable for technological applications. With the [...]
Smart nanoparticle shows that intermittent fasting may protect the heart from damage during chemotherapy
Although chemotherapy can be a lifesaving treatment for patients with cancer, some of these medications can damage the heart. A team led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) recently developed a nanoparticle probe [...]
When the autumn booster programme begins next month, many people are likely to receive Moderna’s new bivalent vaccine, designed to protect against the original Covid strain and the more transmissible Omicron variant. As Covid continues [...]
Scientists of the department of Advanced Organ Bioengineering and Therapeutics (TechMed Centre) recently published a novel cancer immune therapy in the scientific journal Nature Communications ("Cancer immune therapy using engineered ‛tail-flipping’ nanoliposomes targeting alternatively activated macrophages"). [...]
Scientists from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation (TIBI) have developed a contact lens that can capture and detect exosomes, nanometer-sized vesicles found in bodily secretions which have the potential for being diagnostic cancer [...]
Among the total number of deaths caused by different types of cancer, esophageal cancer is the sixth most significant. Several conventional treatments, such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery have multiple side effects, including off-target [...]
Cell membrane-coated nanoparticles, applied in targeted drug delivery strategies, combine the intrinsic advantages of synthetic nanoparticles and cell membranes. Although stem cell-based delivery systems were highlighted for their targeting capability in tumor therapy, inappropriate [...]
When babies in the African countries of Guinea Bissau and Uganda were given the tuberculosis vaccine, something remarkable happened. Instead of the vaccine only protecting against the target bacteria – Myocbacterium tuberculosis – the tuberculosis vaccine offered broad protection against a [...]
Thousands of years ago, across the Eastern Mediterranean, multiple Bronze Age civilizations took a distinct turn for the worse at around the same time. The Old Kingdom of Egypt and the Akkadian Empire both collapsed, and there was [...]
IN OCTOBER 2014, virologist Edward Holmes took a tour of the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, a once relatively overlooked city of about 11 million people in the central Chinese province of Hubei. The market would [...]
Self-healable ionic sensing materials with fatigue resistance are imperative in robotics and soft electronics for extended service life. The existing artificial ionic skins with self-healing capacity were prepared by network reconfiguration, constituting low-energy amorphous [...]
As demand for solar energy rises around the world, scientists are working to improve the performance of solar devices—important if the technology is to compete with traditional fuels. But researchers face theoretical limits on [...]
When shrimp shell nanoparticles were mixed into cement paste, the material became substantially stronger — researchers propose an innovation that could lead to less seafood waste and fewer carbon dioxide emissions from concrete production. [...]
A black-and-white video shared on social media showed a microscopic corkscrew-shaped helix as it appeared to consume a sperm, transport it, and ultimately lead the little swimmer into the wall of an [...]
Polymers containing quantum dots (QDs) are considered crucial components of next-generation consumer items, but ambiguity remains regarding how these compounds may negatively affect public health and the environment. A pre-proof paper from the Journal of Hazardous [...]