The garbage coming from the sky

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Thousands of satellites operating in orbit are abandoned to their fate, which is a serious risk to other devices and spacecraft, as well as to impact the Earth. The European Space Agency (ESA) draws up a plan to “cleanse” the space.

In “Gravity”, the intriguing film debut next year Alfonso Cuarón, the ship in which a veteran astronaut (George Clooney) makes his last trip suffers a terrible accident by hitting a piece of space junk. It’s science fiction, but something similar might happen. There is so much waste in orbit around the Earth, it is estimated that around us a “belt” consisting of more than 700,000 pieces – they pose a clear risk to operational satellites or artifacts that humans take up there. Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) draws up a plan to combat these dangerous wastes space, so that they can create new tools to remove the maximum amount of those already and there will be many more in the future. Scientists know that the problem should not be cornered like a minor issue. As an example of the danger, only one fact: At a speed of 7.5 km per second, until a bolt of just 2 cm may be sufficient to destroy a satellite.

Of the more than 6,000 satellites launched since the beginning of the space age, less than a thousand remain operational. The rest has gone into the atmosphere or in orbit still left with a high risk of creating new pieces of space junk if your batteries or fuel in their tanks arrived to explode. The result: at least 16,000 objects larger than ten inches in diameter and hundreds of millions of small particles orbiting at breakneck speeds around the planet. In many cases, stand in the path of spacecraft or satellites and threaten their safety. They are great remains of rockets, satellites old or disused spacecraft components, like specks of dust or paint chips. “Flying over the Earth at a speed of 7.5 km / s, or even more, up to 2 cm screw just has a ‘lethal diameter’ enough to destroy a satellite,” recalls the ESA.

“We are obliged to leave the room for the next generations as we found it: flawless,” says the Director General of ESA, Jean-Jacques Dordain, in a news agency on its Clean Space initiative, a program to preserve the space environment. But the battle against space debris begins on the ground. Researchers study new industrial processes in the creation of space technology such as the “additive manufacturing”, in which structures are built layer by layer, or “friction-stir welding,” Welding with a temperature lower that allows to use fewer materials and less energy.

In a meeting organized by ESA these days, scientists have discussed various techniques to minimize the stay in orbit of the satellites at the end of its useful life, as EDTs or solar sails that would help bring them back to Earth in less than 25 years.

Impact with Earth

The reentry of satellites in Earth’s atmosphere also needs to be really sure. Occasionally, fragments arrive intact satellite to the ground. For example, the satellite remains of the Upper Atmosphere Research (UARS) over 5.5 tonnes and the size of a bus fell into the Pacific Ocean last September. The new concept of ‘design for demise “(designed to die) aims to prevent this from happening.

Scientists warn that even if from tomorrow not return to launch a satellite, the simulations show that levels of debris into orbit continue to increase. Since the ESA create a need for a system to remove the fragments in orbit, which could include robotic missions designed to repair or deorbit satellites inoperative.

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