Space debris

There have been many reports in the past about the increasing amount of space debris orbiting about the earth posing a serious danger to space ships and satellites and making the use of space difficult for all purposes. The latest is a warning from the European Space Agency (ESA) which has said that the situation has almost reached a tipping point.

The debris includes defunct satellites, old boosters and small hardware fragments which crowd the low orbit region. It is estimated that there are  three lakh pieces of  such junk amounting to thousands of tonnes of dangerous material. Since they move at very high speeds and therefore pack a large punch they can damage spacecraft and cause many missions to fail.

 The risk of damage to manned missions is obvious. ESA has said that there are at least 17,000 objects which have been tracked and are capable of causing  very serious  damage.  There is a view that many orbits which are frequently used now may become unusable in future.

Considering the danger potential of keeping the space littered with such objects many agencies have proposed ideas and action plans to clean up the earth’s front yard. The European agency is  designing a probe which will locate and destroy the moving debris. An Australian agency is planning to set up an observatory which can  use lasers to destroy the junk in space. NASA is also thinking on similar lines.

But the technologies for such cleaning up operations have to be fully  developed. They are also costly.   Most solutions envisaged by scientists aim to  hit the debris and throw them into the atmosphere where they will burn up.

They may not always be safe operations too.Unfortunately there is no joint effort and co-ordination among space faring countries to undertake collective work. The problem is compounded by the attempts to militarise space.

The space is used for testing destruction of satellites. A few years ago China conducted a test in space which destroyed a decommissioned weather satellite. The satellite was smashed into over one lakh small pieces which are still present in space.

No country with such capabilities is ready to refrain from such tests. There is the need for efforts under the auspices of the United Nations to rid the space of the dangerous material there. The space is the global commons and all countries have the responsibility to keep it clean and safe.

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