‘Time to act’ in the face of space debris

The 1957 launch of Sputnik, the first satellite, ushered in a new era for humanity. Today the Earth is surrounded by spacecraft that do essential work for global communication and navigation services, study the climate, save lives after disasters and help answer scientific questions.

But all these ships, including manned ones like the international space station, are at risk of accidental collisions with more than 129 million objects larger than one millimeter (900,000 of more than one centimeter) that currently orbit our planet. These can range from old dormant satellites or rocket stages to flaking paint.

Experts agree that the solution to space debris is to act before it is too late, a message that ESA conveys with the world premiere of the film Time to Act.

No matter how small the fragments are, any small piece that travels at a speed of 56,000 km / h it is dangerous if it collides with any of the many satellites that connect us to the world, whether by GPS, mobile telephony or the internet. In addition, a cascading effect if they collide with each other, generating even more debris and making the most useful orbits unsafe.

In this context, between April 20 and 23, 2021, the THAT hosts the 8th European Conference on Space Junk in Darmstadt (Germany), although attendees can follow it virtually. Scientists, engineers, industry representatives and politicians will discuss the problems, ongoing research and pending challenges in the face of space debris.

Experts agree that the solution is to act before it is too late, a message that ESA also conveys with the world premiere of the film on Tuesday. Time to Act (Time to act).

The European Space Agency is developing technologies for an automatic collision avoidance system, as well as methods for refueling, repairing and updating satellites in orbit, prolonging the life of missions and potentially reducing the number of new satellites that need to be launched.

The ClearSpace-1 mission

ESA’s actions also include the ClearSpace-1 mission (led by a Swiss company of the same name), which will be the first in the world to eliminate space debris. Its launch is scheduled for 2025.

In 2025 the ClearSpace-1 ‘hunter’ satellite will capture the upper stage of an ancient rocket using four robotic arms, and then they will disintegrate together in the atmosphere.

The mission will target the upper stage Vespa (secondary payload adapter of the Vega rocket), abandoned in an orbit between 800 and 660 km altitude after the second flight of this launcher in 2013. With a mass of 100 kg, Vespa is about the size of a satellite Small, simple shape and sturdy construction, which makes it an ideal first candidate for this type of operation.

The ClearSpace-1 ‘hunter’ satellite will be sent to a lower orbit of 500 km altitude for a series of commissioning and critical tests before ascending to final orbit, where it will capture the object using four robotic arms.

Afterwards, both the capture satellite and Vespa will be exorbitant so that they disintegrate together in the atmosphere.

Rights: Creative Commons.