Since the dawn of the space age 65 years ago, spent rocket stages, derelict satellites and other orbital debris have steadily accumulated around Earth, posing a grave danger to astronauts and unmanned spacecraft. can result in With thousands of satellites in orbit today, and tens of thousands more to be launched in the next few years, the problem of ‘space junk’ is so acute that Britain’s newly crowned Charles It is also a topic of third generation. Speaking at the Space Sustainability Summit in London in June, then-Prince Charles called for urgent action to prevent orbital disasters. “He has long felt that protecting the space that immediately surrounds our planet is one of those issues that most people don’t realize is important,” he said. “But… if we don’t act quickly, we will be in big trouble again.”
However, it has been difficult to gather enough international support to tackle the problem. One reason for this is that the national regulatory bodies of spaceflight nations have been slow to keep up with the rapidly increasing number of space satellites. But last week’s important developments could herald a turn in the tide. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced the first of several expected new regulations aimed at mitigating space debris. While it’s only a small step forward so far, many experts are hopeful that this could be the beginning of humanity finally sorting out the chaos that has taken place in space.Satellite Industry Association of Washington, D.C. “It’s definitely a good start,” said Therese Jones, senior director at .com.
On September 8, the FCC announced a new proposal that would require operators to remove satellites from orbit within five years of the end of their orbital purpose. This limit is currently set at 25 years, but many believe that the time frame inadequately addresses the problem, unnecessarily increases the risk of debris-producing collisions, and further increases the threat of space junk. This isn’t a far-fetched sci-fi scenario, one major devastating collision and many terrifying near-misses have already occurred. Back in 2009, a collision between an active Iridium communications satellite and her long-dead Russian Cosmos 2251 satellite created nearly 2,000 pieces of space junk. Most of them still orbit the Earth today. Reducing the amount of time dead satellites stay in orbit should reduce the likelihood of future collisions.
Secure World Foundation’s Brian Weeden said: But “there was no consensus on what the new standard should be.”
Since there is no elusive global agreement on this issue, the FCC is handling the matter on its own. In its draft, the agency’s “five-year rule” would require satellites licensed in the United States, or licensed elsewhere seeking access to the U.S. market, to orbit up to 2,000 kilometers above the Earth. must be deorbited within that time frame. end of their mission. Options for doing so include using thrusters to propel yourself down, or relying on the natural drag produced by the Earth’s atmosphere in low orbit. (The FCC has not dictated how deorbit should be achieved.) “We have to deal with this space junk,” she said, according to FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworthel and Deputy Kamala Harris. said at a meeting of the National Space Council chaired by the President. September 9th. “Twenty-five years is a very long time.”
Rosenworcel and three other FCC commissioners are expected to approve the proposal in a September 29 vote. leave them stuck. If passed, the rule will come into force after two years and operators will have to follow the rule for five years after that. It is not yet clear what the penalties for non-compliance will be. Walt Everetts, vice president of satellite operations and ground development for US satellite company Iridium Communications, welcomes the proposal. “I was ecstatic when I saw it,” he says. “We have advocated shortening [the orbital lifetime] Many years. “
This is expected to be the first of several draft orders on space debris from the FCC. Other orders could address liability and financial compensation issues in the event of an orbital collision, or require satellites above a certain altitude to carry thrusters to avoid collisions if necessary. There is a nature. A draft order from such an agency is not expected to address the issue of light pollution from satellites that has been of particular concern to astronomers.
These rules are primarily US-centric, but other countries may be expected to follow them as well. In fact, some organizations are proposing even stricter regulations. For example, the European Space Agency’s approach of leaving no “net zero” debris in orbit. “This momentum continues, [to] Mike Lindsay, chief technology officer at Japanese space debris removal company Astroscale, said:
The FCC’s actions are driven in part by the rapid growth of recent satellites, mainly from so-called mega-constellations such as SpaceX’s Starlink. Its Space Internet Constellation began launching in 2019 and now counts over 3,000 satellites. This is half of all active satellites in orbit. It is planned to swell to over 12,000 in the next few years. British company OneWeb has also launched more than 400 satellites, while Amazon plans to match Starlink by launching more than 3,000 with its Project Kuiper constellation. In the United States, the FCC is responsible for licensing such satellites and granting access to that country’s market, as in the case of OneWeb. It has also been criticized in the past for approving thousands of satellites without addressing the risk of debris. “In the past, satellite operators could leave derelict and unmanaged objects for generations,” he says.
The five-year rule is an effort to at least partially address satellite proliferation, ensuring that dead satellites do not clutter the Earth’s orbit. However, not everyone is convinced of its effectiveness. “I have some reservations,” says Hugh Lewis, a space debris expert at the University of Southampton, UK. According to his modeling, the 5-year rule only improves the total amount of space debris in orbit by 3-4% over the 25-year rule. Without the “de-orbit” rule, this modeling suggests a probability of about 133 collisions over the next two centuries. The 25-year rule reduces it to 55 collisions, while the 5-year rule only reduces it to 43 collisions. NASA’s own analysis of him in 2019 showed a meager 11% improvement on him after 200 years. “It was overruled by the FCC proposal,” says Lewis, noting that reducing deorbit time to essentially zero would be more effective. To do so, the satellite would have to go straight into the atmosphere after the mission ended. “There is no evidence of change [to five years]’ says Lewis. “It’s just based on what people have been saying.”
Many satellite companies, through organizations such as the Space Safety Coalition, have already developed their own voluntary guidelines for retiring their satellites within five years, and the FCC rule change will affect most U.S. satellite operators. It means that it is unlikely to pose a large burden. The National Institute of Aeronautical and Space Sciences has released guidelines created in collaboration with SpaceX, OneWeb, and Iridium. These go beyond the FCC’s new proposal to set a one-year deorbit target and take steps to avoid close encounters with other satellites. “Our goal was to develop a comprehensive set of high-level recommendations,” says former NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus of his AstroPlanetview in Virginia. “We were really eyeing his three largest constellation providers. Amazon is probably next.”
No one is quite convinced that the FCC should enter this domain. “People who oppose this will say this is outside the FCC’s jurisdiction,” he says Weeden. Some argue that the task should be taken up by the Department of Commerce, which has already been mandated by the White House to tackle space debris, or by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has a license to launch operations in the United States. taking the lead. “I think they think they’re filling in this regulatory void that existed,” says Jones. “Certainly the media attention and some of the near misses worried them.”
Much work still needs to be done amid concerns over agency overreach and some questionable scientific evidence, but a new draft order shows that solving space junk is at least on the agenda. FCC It remains to be seen whether will become the de facto US entity tasked with solving the problem. But Weeden thinks that advantage is inevitable. why? It’s simply because “no one is doing it”.