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The wreckage of a Chinese aviation rocket hit the Indian Ocean unharmed on Sunday, leaving it uncertain where it might land. Most of the rocket’s 20-ton area was burned during a re-launch, but some fragments fell near the Maldives, according to the Chinese space agency. Prior to the crash, experts had warned that there was a small chance of debris falling on a large city and causing severe damage.
The incident attracted international attention because of the size of the rocket segment and its potential trajectory, but space debris has become a daily concern for scientists as launches occur frequently and the Earth’s outer atmosphere is amplified by satellites. As more and more countries and private companies expand their space aspirations, the risk of rocket parts falling into populated areas is increasing. Most experts agree that space debris around the planet poses a risk to important satellite infrastructure and space exploration missions.
There are currently about 6,000 satellites orbiting the Earth, more than half of which are now inactive. If they collide, they can split into thousands of pieces, which can then hit other objects in orbit, destroying everything in its path and forming a chain reaction that makes the entire orbit unusable. In addition to large objects, NASA estimates that a softball or more contains at least 26,000 pieces of debris – due to their extraordinary speed – that could destroy satellites or spacecraft. There are millions of small pieces, the size of a few grains of sand, which can pierce a gap.
As space debris exists today, it will only get worse as companies like SpaceX continue their plans to put thousands of communications satellites into orbit in the coming years.
There is debate as to why
There is widespread agreement among astronomers that space debris is a serious issue. Scientists have come up with a variety of solutions – some based on new technologies and some focusing on policy changes – to deal with the problem.
A few companies theoretically operate in systems that collect existing space debris, re-burn it in the atmosphere or forcibly push it into space, where it is less of a risk. In other projects all new satellites must have backup impulses, which are high-powered light beams that can exit the Earth’s orbit, the best ways to monitor debris and change the orbits of hazardous objects.
As certain as some of these ideas may be, many experts say that space junk is more of a policy issue than a technical concept. They argue that space needs strong international laws, like the laws governing the seas and skies, to ensure that countries and private businesses act responsibly. That effort should begin as major space powers such as the United States and China set aside their competing aspirations and work together to develop a sustainable long-term plan for how humans will use space.
All nations must work together to clean up the place
“The major powers must elevate space management to the level of other threats to humanity, from climate change to nuclear proliferation. They must publicly label the issue as a tragedy and mark their readiness to begin negotiations with each other regardless of other conflicts. The obvious country that the United States leads is China and Russia.” And other countries need to be reconsidered. ”- Andreas Cloth, Bloomberg
A strong set of international laws is needed to guide space debris solutions
“Beyond legal technologies, garbage disposal raises complex policy, geopolitical, economic and social challenges. Whose responsibility is garbage disposal? Who pays? What rights do non-space nations have in the debate? Which garbage should be traditionally protected?” – Steven Freeland and Annie Handmer. Conversation
Emerging technologies can quickly remove unwanted debris from orbit
“Could the solution to removing hazardous space debris be a mini-fridge-sized spacecraft with a large magnet, or could it pull an orbit that sends a mass tent to trap a spent rocket? If all goes well, projects like this could be the first step in removing the metal-refracting stars orbiting the Earth. ”- Eric Naylor, Wire
Countries that pay rockets unsafely need more accountability
“Why is it possible that China, or any other astronaut nation, would launch a massive rocket and it would fall to the ground in a willy-nilly manner? They take chances that nothing big will happen. ”- Alex Ward, Vox
Advanced garbage-monitoring systems can help prevent conflicts
“In theory, satellite operators should have a lot of space to fly safely on all of these missions without approaching another object, so some scientists are tackling the space debris problem, trying to understand where all the debris is, to a greater degree of accuracy. This necessitates many unnecessary maneuvers used today to avoid potential collisions. Will reduce. ”- Alexandra Witze, Natural
The solution begins by recognizing the magnitude of the problem
“Until we acknowledge that orbital spaces around the Earth are a finite resource, Chicken Little will be a little less paranoid and more valuable.” – Seth Shostak, NBC News
The first step is to stop creating so much space debris
“In my view, the best solution for dealing with space debris is not to create it in the first place. As with any environmental problem, pollution prevention is easy and minimal. Stop leaving them in orbit after they have completed their mission. ”- Space Operations Specialist D.S. Kelso Science American
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