- increasing waste due to space race
- space debris falling to earth
- Fragments can even kill people
Space debris: The chances of someone being killed by space junk falling from the sky may seem pretty slim. After all, no one has died from such an accident so far, although there have been cases of damage and equipment. But given that we are sending large numbers of satellites, rockets and probes into space, do we need to start taking the risk more seriously? A new study published in Nature Astronomy estimates that people are expected to die from falling rocket parts within the next ten years. Every minute of every day, debris rains down on us from space – a danger of which we are almost completely unaware.
Small particles of satellites and comets fall on the surface of the earth, but they go unnoticed. It adds about 40,000 tons of dust to Earth every year. These particles are not a problem for us, but such debris can damage spacecraft – as recently happened to the James Webb Space Telescope. Occasionally a large specimen in the form of a meteorite hits the earth, and perhaps once every 100 years a meteorite of tens of meters passes through the atmosphere and falls to the earth, forming a crater. Fortunately, it is very rare for kilometer-sized objects to reach the surface, if they do, they can cause death and destruction. The extinction of the dinosaurs that once roamed the earth was the result of such an event.
fragments can enter the earth’s atmosphere
These are examples of natural space debris whose uncontrolled arrival is unpredictable and is more or less uniform across the globe. However, the new study examined the possibility of uncontrolled arrival of artificial space debris, such as rocket launches and detached pieces of rockets attached to satellites. Using mathematical modeling of the positions and orbits of rocket fragments in space and the population densities below them, as well as 30 years of data from previous satellite data, the authors estimated when rocket debris and other fragments of space would return to land. . They found that there is a small but significant risk of similar fragments re-entering the atmosphere in the coming decade.
But this is more likely to happen in southern latitudes than in northern latitudes. In fact, the study estimated that the chances of rocket fragments falling above the latitudes of Jakarta in Indonesia, Dhaka in Bangladesh or Lagos in Nigeria are almost three times greater than in New York in the US, Beijing in China or Moscow in Russia. The authors also predict losses from uncontrolled rockets re-entering the atmosphere over the next decade.
Assuming that each re-entry spreads deadly debris over an area of ten square meters, they found that it has a 10 percent chance of causing an average of one or more casualties over the next decade.
Fuel and batteries can cause explosions
Until now, the potential for damage to the Earth’s surface (or air traffic in the atmosphere) from satellite and rocket debris has been considered negligible. Most studies of such space debris have focused on the in-orbit risk posed by inactive satellites, which could impede the safe operation of a functioning satellite. Unused fuel and batteries also cause an explosion in circuits, which generates additional waste. But as enrollments in the rocket launch industry grow—and move from government to private enterprise—it is highly likely that the number of accidents, both in space and on Earth, such as those following the launch of the Chinese Long March 5B increase. will also increase.
There are a number of technologies that make it fully possible to control waste re-entry, but they are expensive to implement. For example, spacecraft can be ‘deactivated’, allowing unused energy (such as fuel or batteries) to be used instead of being stored after the spacecraft’s lifetime is over. The choice of orbit for the satellite can also reduce the potential for generating debris. A passive satellite can be programmed to be carried into low Earth orbit where it will burn up. There are also attempts to launch reusable rockets, for example SpaceX has demonstrated and Blue Origin is developing. These create very little waste, although there will be some waste from paint and metal shavings when they return to Earth in a controlled manner.
The study argues that advanced technologies and more thoughtful mission design will reduce the rate of uncontrolled re-entry of spacecraft debris, reducing the risk of a worldwide hazard. In five years, it will be 70 years since the launch of the first satellite into space. It would be a fitting celebration of this eventuality if it could be marked by a strong and binding international treaty on space debris, ratified by all members of the United Nations. Ultimately, all countries will benefit from such an agreement.
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