Space Junk - The Ugly Truth
From the old ages and beyond, space exploring was a human dream which became a reality on the 20th century, many nations launched various types of spaceships into the space, aiming to discover a new world, some of them were aiming to discover the new aspects and dimensions of that world, others were launched to operate various functions like empowering communications, distribution of various mass media, and even discovering resources and revealing landscapes on the planet earth.
Beyond all the benefits of the space exploring, there is one present fact known as space human debris, we can simply describe it as; the various remaining parts of any human made spacecraft launched into space, there are several phases occurs when launching any object into space, some of these phases consist detachment of several parts of the spacecraft, causes leftovers objects in the outer space.
Also some spacecraft go into un-functional status, sometimes to be left on the orbits of earth on space, adding all the previous objects will lead us to know that those are the main sources of human spacecraft debris.
Following several decades of space exploring; the flying objects continue to flow into several types of earth orbits including:
- Low Earth orbit (LEO): geocentric orbits with altitudes from 160 to 2,000 km.
- Medium Earth orbit (MEO): geocentric orbits ranging in altitude from 2,000 km and above.
- High Earth orbit: geocentric orbits above the altitude of geosynchronous orbit 35,786 km.
Nasa Statistics declared: “More than 500,000 pieces of debris, or “space junk,” are tracked as they orbit the Earth. They all travel at speeds up to 17,500 mph, fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft.”
Also NASA officials estimate about the size of these space junk: “about 500,000 pieces of debris larger than a marble orbit the planet. There are 22,000 bits of junk as big as a softball, and there could be more than 100 million tiny fragments at least 1 millimeter across racing around Earth.”
The human made orbital debris flows throw the earth orbital space, it is likely to be in the forms of barriers and obstacles for other space objects, several reports showed some functional space crafts were exposed to damages during the last years, which caused by these kind of space junk.
Also the amount of space crafts are increasing due to the nations` race into space, many nations on the last decades has participated on space missions, including sending communications satellites and small shuttles, also we have observed some of the big enterprises who struggled to get into the space race, all of these participations are doing a huge burden on the matter of space junk.
Some statistics showed that there are nearly 22.000 rockets launched on the last decades, which caused a lot of human made debris to be stuck on the earth space, most of these objects are in Low Earth orbit (LEO).
This is leading us to one simple fact: “Humans are producing more space debris faster than the debris can fall back on Earth naturally, putting satellites and spacecraft at risk of colliding with speeding pieces of debris.”
On 2011, the U.S. General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, declared that the problem could be tripled by the year 2030.
A possible solutions:
Scientists & Space agencies including NASA raised a high concern toward the problem, they are doing so much efforts to reach an applicable solution for the junk clearance.
A suggested solution was expressed to apply the 25 years old rule, which consist of that every nation should not launch objects with a lifetime in space exceeding more than 25 years after achieving its purpose.
Another solution is suggested to send an operation vehicle to gather and capture flying objects into space, and return it to a central station, this study was presented by Erika Carlson , University of Texas, Austin - "Final design of a space debris removal system" – 1990.
Also experts are doing researches on the matter of recycling existed space crafts like satellites, which reduces the need of launching a new object into space.