Space debris has been a problem for decades, but recent investments in aggressive debris removal indicate a broader commitment to sustainable space development.
More recently, concerns about space debris have increased, as demonstrated on October 2, 2022, when ESA’s CryoSat had to aggressively dodge a 3 cm piece of debris from the top stage of an Agena-D rocket. increase. Of the tens of thousands of space objects tracked in orbit like this, only about 4,000 satellites are in operation. All the rest is space junk. In addition to rocket stages, there are defunct satellites, launch adapters, detonated debris, intentional or unintentional launches of solid rocket motors, as well as (human) objects of unknown origin.
Many of these objects are concentrated in shells on Earth, as explained in our analysis. In addition to being a launch risk, satellites that engage in aggressive maneuvers to avoid crashing use up excess fuel, thereby shortening their lifespans and hastening their membership in the space junk graveyard. Additional satellites will then be needed to replace them, often sooner than originally planned. We all know how this kind of growth proceeds. Donald Kessler proposed the cascading effect, named after him, for cases of spatial pollution density such that each collision spawns a new object, creating more collisions. Unfortunately, he concluded, the space environment was already unstable in 2009. Progress lacks urgency and coordination, but the burgeoning private sector and strings of tens of thousands (or even hundreds) of satellites in mega-constellations can be built on existing spacecraft, communications infrastructure, and spacecraft. High congestion now has centered minds and, crucially, has put funds to the ground.
The latest initiative is the Orbital Sustainability Act of 2022, introduced to the U.S. Senate by four Democratic and Republican senators on Sept. 12. The bipartisan bill would provide him $150 million over five years for NASA to “establish a demonstration program for the aggressive remediation of orbital debris,”[s] Developing harmonized orbital debris standard practices to support a safe and sustainable orbital environment”. This cash injection represents a gradual change in his 30-odd years of various US government policies regarding space debris and demonstrates his commitment to lead by example.
On 23 June 2022, the UK government announced a similar plan for space sustainability, reigning in the new ‘Wild West’ of space. The program was developed independently in the absence of binding regulations for all space nations. The aim is for the UK Government, in partnership with the UK Space Agency, to work with industry stakeholders to encourage best practice and drive down insurance premiums, thereby attracting investment in a sustainable way. is. An additional £5m of his Active Debris Removal program will go to a consortium project. The funding is in addition to his £5 million grant to the National Space Surveillance and Tracking Programme. The program will provide a ‘satellite watch’ collision assessment service to all licensed satellite operators in the UK.
The aforementioned consortia are led by ClearSpace UK and Astroscale Ltd respectively. Both consortia have completed feasibility studies to actively remove at least two decommissioned UK operational satellites from Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The photo shows an artistic impression of the ClearSpace concept, CLEAR OF LEO ENVIRONMENTS BY ACTIVE REMOVAL (CLEAR) mission, to capture a derelict satellite. The consortium, which has been awarded £2.25 million, will complete the design phase by October 2023.
Meanwhile, Astroscale was awarded £1.7m to design a servicer capable of removing multiple satellites in a single mission. The Outer Space Cleaning by Innovative Recovery (COSMIC) program builds on End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d). Last year, ELSA-d successfully demonstrated a magnetic spacecraft acquisition system for docking, holding and releasing client spacecraft. In May 2022, ELSA-M was announced as a follow-up full-scale servicer to capture and remove multiple derelict satellites. Her €14.8 million in funding comes from OneWeb, Astroscale, the UK and European space agencies as part of the Sunrise programme.
Another consortium that includes Airbus and is co-funded by the EU’s 7th Framework Program is working on RemoveDEBRIS. The capture mechanism uses nets and harpoons and has a vision-based navigation system. The 100 kg satellite was released by the International Space Station (ISS) in 2018 to capture a CubeSat. As a rule, it can catch targets up to 2 meters in diameter and 2 tons in weight. Once captured, the combined object will deorbit and burn up in the atmosphere within months instead of years.
Clearing out space debris is a welcome practice, but it’s better not to create so much junk in the first place. Anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles launched from Earth (in the guise of defense) are a particularly dangerous but avoidable source of space debris. His ASAT test in China in 2007 increased the number of tracked space objects by 25%. Last November, Russia’s ASAT missile destroyed one of his old satellites. The resulting space debris threatened both the ISS and Chinese scientific satellites. In response to this kind of unnecessary and risky activity, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced a voluntary ban on “destructive and direct-rising anti-satellite missile tests” in April 2022. So far Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Germany have signed, and the US plans to submit a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly in the hope that more countries will follow their example. We hope more countries will join us.