Space debris, this is how the US runs for cover

Space debris, this is how the US runs for cover

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and NASA are taking new measures to reduce the huge amount of dead satellites that are clogging up the space around the Earth

The US government is running for cover on the issue of space debris.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and NASA are taking steps to reduce the huge amount of dead satellites that are clogging up the space around Earth.

There are thousands of pieces of space junk circling the Earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour, threatening operational satellites and even people in orbit.

In early September, the FCC, the US federal telecommunications authority, proposed updating the guidelines on space debris. The agency's proposal would require satellites that terminate their mission or pass through the low earth orbit region, defined by NASA as anything with an altitude between 300 and 2,000 km, to deorbit as soon as possible within five years. instead of the 25 years currently foreseen.

On September 29, the US authority voted 4-0 to adopt the new rules, Reuters reported Thursday.

Experts believe the new five-year deadline proposed by the FCC to remove space junk is a big step. But does it go far enough? Tracking space junk is becoming more complicated as the number of wandering objects and their risk of collision only increases, Quartz points out.

All the details.


Human activities leave too many dead satellites and scraps of machinery discarded in Earth's orbit. Space junk clutters orbits and poses an urgent threat to weather, security, communications and other satellites.


More than 30,000 space debris in orbit has been identified and regularly monitored to avoid collisions, but statistical models estimate that there may even be more than a million with dimensions greater than one centimeter, and their number is constantly increasing. This is what emerges from the latest Annual Space Environment Report drawn up by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2022.


In recent times the topic of space junk has risen to the fore.

In November 2021, a Russian military test carried out in space left thousands of dangerous fragments in orbit. Specifically, a missile launched from Moscow destroyed a satellite but also triggered a rain of debris that forced the crew members of the ISS, the International Space Station, to seek shelter and prepare for a possible evacuation.

An example of this is also the alarm triggered in the first days of May 2021 for the uncontrolled return to Earth of the second stage of the Chinese space rocket CZ-5B (Long March 5B). The latter put into orbit the "Tianhe-1", the first module of the new Chinese space station Tiangong-3, which returned to the Earth's atmosphere on the Indian Ocean at 4.15 am (Italian time) on May 9, 2021, in an area close to to the Maldives islands, after having held the entire world population, including Italy, with bated breath for days.

Meanwhile, private space company SpaceX has also received criticism for the risk of orbital debris presented by its rapidly growing Starlink constellation. Elon Musk's company defends itself by claiming that its satellites can maneuver autonomously to avoid collisions.


ESA points out that in the last two years there has been a "huge increase" in the number of small commercial satellites in orbit, most weighing between 100 and 1000 kilograms. "If we do not significantly change the way we launch and dispose of space objects, the number of catastrophic collisions in space risks increasing," the ESA experts point out .

“This could lead to 'Kessler syndrome', a situation where the density of objects in orbit is so high that collisions between objects and debris create a cascade effect, each crash generating debris increasing the likelihood of further collisions. At this point, some low Earth orbits will become completely inhospitable ”.


Therefore, in the States the FCC has pledged to update the rules enacted only two years ago to deal with space debris.

"The order, if adopted by the commissioners, would require spacecraft ending their missions or passing through LEO to evacuate their spacecraft by re-entering Earth's atmosphere as soon as possible and no more than five years after the end of the mission. The rule would apply to satellites launched two years after the adoption of the order and would include both US-licensed satellites and those licensed from other jurisdictions but seeking access to the US market, ” Spacenews explained.

And on Sept. 29, the U.S. Federal Telecommunications Authority unanimously voted on the proposal to require operators of low-Earth orbit satellites to deorbit from their spacecraft within five years of their mission's completion, a much shorter time frame. than that currently required of 25 years.


Meanwhile, the US space agency also announced on September 13 that it will fund three proposals from various universities to better understand orbital debris and sustainability in space.


And in the Old Continent, the European Space Agency (ESA) has also made its move, announcing at the beginning of this year its partnership with Astroscale and OneWeb for the development of a spacecraft to capture decommissioned satellites in Earth's orbit low before the launch of a telecommunications constellation with OneWeb.


Finally, in order to monitor these objects and prevent their trajectories, Italy, as part of a cooperation agreement between the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the Ministry of Defense and the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF), participates in the European consortium for Space Surveillance & Tracking (EU-SST), which observes space debris to provide timely warnings and avoid collisions with satellites, managing their possible return to safety. In particular, Leonardo, through its subsidiary Vitrociset, has been working for several years in support of the Italian Air Force, for the implementation of the Space Surveillance & Tracking (SST) and Space Situation Awareness (SSA) capacity, both in the field of radar technologies. both for the data processing software.

Furthermore, during the World Satellite Business Week in Paris, in mid-September Telespazio (Leonardo 67% -Thales 33%) and NorthStar announced partnerships for the supply of new space surveillance services to European governments. "The quality of the data and the rapid review of the information will allow Telespazio to perfect its ability to detect, track, predict, identify and characterize space objects and debris, fundamental activities to meet the sophisticated needs of the market, for example in applications for defense ” explained Luigi Pasquali, CEO of Telespazio.

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL on Sun, 02 Oct 2022 06:23:38 +0000.