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Real Engineering ’s The Truth About Space Debris
26 April 2019 at 07:00:01 AM

space debris

    An important role is preventing, avoiding, and cleaning up space debris. Cascading collisions of space debris could render space unreachable for more than a thousand years.

    Real Engineering’s The Truth About Space Debris:

    Joe Scott’s Space Junk: It’s Much Worse Than You Think:

    From Joint Publication 3-14, Space Operations, 10 April 2018:

    b. Debris. Operational satellites are under constant threat of impact. Orbiting particulates left behind during a satellite’s lifetime, debris from satellite explosions or impacts, trash such as rocket bodies, and natural objects such as meteoroids may damage operational systems. Further complicating this problem is that much of the debris is too small to track with current sensor capabilities.

        (1) Debris Dispersal. Generally, if an object detaches from an orbiting body, no matter its size, it will initially follow the same orbit. Debris may take weeks, months, or even years to separate from its source. Even clouds of objects, created by explosive events, will only slowly disperse once the initial explosion is complete. Depending on altitude and velocity, such objects may remain in a stable orbit for tens or even hundreds of years.

        (2) Cascading Collisions. The preferential use of certain orbits compounds the collision risk by concentrating large numbers of objects in discrete bands. Congestion in space is a well-recognized problem. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) estimates there are approximately 500,000 orbiting objects between 1 and 10 centimeters in size. As the orbital space around the Earth becomes more congested, a small collision may create a chain reaction of collisions, creating debris that renders some orbits unusable for centuries.

        (3) Collision avoidance involves maneuvering spacecraft to avoid a collision of space objects against an impending hazard to the safety of astronauts or the space vehicle. Such actions may shorten the overall operational life span of the spacecraft. Nearly a decade after China’s 2007 ASAT weapon test, approximately 3,000 discrete pieces of debris remain in orbit. This debris field has required satellite operators to conduct collision-avoidance maneuvers for spaceflight safety.

—Joint Publication 3-14, Space Operations, 10 April 2018

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Created: September 22, 2018

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