Artist's impression of space debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), created by ESA.

ESA’s impression of space debris in low Earth orbit (LEO). (Appropriations: BK)

Debris left behind by humans in low Earth orbit is the equivalent of a new island of plastic floating in space, according to one expert.

Catherine Cavvada, director general for defence and space at the European Commission, described space debris not as a theoretical threat but as a reality that could damage European and other operational satellites.

In her speech at the 13th European Space Conference, Ms Cavvada : Orbital space debris has become a new island of floating plastic – if I must make a comparison – that poses an immediate threat to the safety of all space travel and sustainability.

Scientific models estimate that there are more than 128 million pieces of space debris larger than 1 mm and 34,000 larger than 10 cm.

Fragments as small as a centimeter can completely destroy satellites because of the speed at which they move.

Artificial satellites are used for communication, such as. B. satellite television and telephony, and for navigation, including Global Positioning System (GPS).

These types of spacecraft also play a role in weather forecasting, storm and pollution monitoring, and astronomy.

Cavvada said that as of January 2019, there are more than 5,000 satellites in space, of which nearly 2,000 are still in use.

She said: Let’s hope – and that’s why we cross our fingers every day – that these satellites can break out of orbit at the end of their lifetimes and burn up in the atmosphere.

Space debris has been described as a new man-made plastic island (Credits: PA).

However, Cavvada warned that there are still nearly 3,000 inactive satellites floating in space. Recent data suggests that more than 500 ruptures or explosions of these space objects have occurred, resulting in fragmentation.

She argued that the addition of satellite networks known as mega constellations in space would lead to the possibility of the Kessler syndrome, a chain reaction in which more and more objects collided, creating new space debris to the point where Earth’s orbit became unusable.

said Ms. Cavvada: It already looks like a disaster is brewing.

According to Rolf Densing, Operations Director of the European Space Agency, who also spoke at the space conference: We live in an age where megaconglomerates are being created and the population of objects in orbit around us is growing by the thousands every year.

So we now have about 1000 Starlink satellites in orbit.

By the end of the decade, there will be tens of thousands of satellites orbiting us.

Isn’t it like just before an accident it was impossible to travel in space because of the huge debris field in orbit?

– Zachary Loser (@BadSciFiName) November 3, 2019

Densing says ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) generates hundreds of collision revenues from the fleet of 20 satellites it operates.

He said: On average, we have to perform a collision maneuver about every two weeks.

Ms. Cavvada argued that to ensure the long-term sustainability of space, it was necessary to limit the production of space debris, prevent the creation of new space debris and develop tools for the disposal of existing space debris.

She said: Even in a theoretical scenario where no other objects are added to the space environment, the ESA and NASA model results show that the critical density is reached in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), so that mitigation alone is no longer sufficient.

added Ms. Cavvada: So, if we don’t respond today in a safe and timely manner… the consequences will be devastating.

EPFL/Free Space

Britain is participating in the construction of a satellite nicknamed Claw that can remove space debris from orbit and help clean up the space around the planet (EPFL/Clear Space).

Last year, the UK government provided £1 million to seven private companies to help them track down space debris as part of the Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST) programme.

The UK will also play a crucial role in the development of the Claw, which will be the first satellite to remove space debris.

As part of ESA’s Clean Space 1 mission, scheduled for 2025, Claw will use a ticking motion to pick up debris before it is returned to Earth’s atmosphere in a controlled manner, where it can safely decompose and escape life.

MORE: Star Trek: James Doohan’s ashes will be smuggled to the space station.

MORE: The space architects spent two months in an Arctic bunker simulating a lunar mission.

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