Space debris – debris that orbits the Earth from satellites – is a growing problem that threatens the future of human space exploration.
To address this problem, Secretary of Economy Alok Sharma has announced a grant of £ 1 million, through the British Space Agency (UKSA), for seven space cleanup programs.
Astronomers fear that high-value vessels in low Earth orbit, such as the International Space Station (ISS), could be destroyed by a piece of rogue debris.
Currently, there is no way to accurately track and track small pieces of debris that could crash towards a multi-million-pound satellite.
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This infographic reveals which countries possess the most space debris. It reveals that Russia is responsible for 14,403 pieces and the United States is second with 8,734
Seven programs to clear space debris
Working on photonic technologies to locate objects in orbit and tell if they are junk or satellite.
This project focuses on the design, prototyping and demonstration of a low-cost low-cost optical surveillance sensor in Earth orbit.
A “40×40 degree square with one eye” prototype will be made.
In the final solution, “9 eyes” will be combined.
Lift me up
The project will create an AI-based algorithm that can distinguish between junk and actual satellites.
Modify and reuse existing sensors to detect and identify objects moving around a spacecraft.
Fujitsu and Amazon
Fujitsu and Amazon will develop machine learning methods to integrate space debris planning into existing missions.
Mr. Sharma said this will improve the commercial viability of missions seeking to remove debris.
The project will rapidly design and deploy a low-cost optical camera system prototype to track objects in low Earth orbit.
It will bring “significant improvements” to Andor’s existing Balor scientific CMOS camera (17 megapixel / 70mm diagonal).
The proposed design will significantly increase the sensitivity of Balor resulting in significantly faster imaging and / or allowing for the monitoring of smaller debris in orbit.
There are believed to be around 160 million pieces of debris floating around the Earth, trapped in our planet’s gravity and traveling at 18,000 miles per hour.
Of these, nearly one million are believed to be larger than 1cm. If one of these were to collide with a satellite, the damage would be devastating.
Not only would it destroy the craft, it would likely trigger a chain reaction, seeing countless satellites knocked out.
This would have catastrophic implications for life on Earth, as modern society relies on satellite services for GPS, mobile communications and weather forecasting.
“Millions of space junk orbiting the earth poses a significant threat to UK satellite systems that provide the vital services we all take for granted, from mobile communications to weather forecasting,” says business secretary Alok Sharma.
He told The Telegraph that action to clean up space must be taken now, before it’s too late.
“If we don’t act now, low Earth orbit could become too dangerous for satellites or even humans on the International Space Station,” he said.
At the moment, it is not possible to remove space debris and only the largest objects in orbit can be detected.
It is hoped that the £ 1 million funding will help make this possible from the UK.
It has been assigned to seven different projects, each with a unique plan to improve our understanding of our muddy orbit.
A project, called “Life Me Off”, will create an algorithm based on artificial intelligence that can distinguish between junk and real satellites.
Another, called Lumi Space, will use lasers to track and map objects.
These seven were cut from a total of 26 proposals, UKSA says.
Graham Turnock, chief executive of the British space agency, said: “People probably don’t realize how messy space is.
“You would never let a car drive down a highway full of broken glass and debris, yet this is what satellites and the Space Station have to navigate their orbital lanes every day.
“In this new era of space megaconstellations, the UK has an unmissable opportunity to lead the way in monitoring and combating this space junk.
“This funding will help us seize this opportunity and thereby create sought-after skills and new highly skilled jobs across the country.”
To tackle the space debris issue, Economy Secretary Alok Sharma (pictured arriving on Monday in Downing Street) has announced a £ 1 million grant from the British Space Agency (UKSA) for seven cleanup programs. of space.
While government funding will help astronomers identify space junk and avoid collisions, plans are also underway to actively remove space debris.
Swiss firm ClearSpace has received the green light from ESA for a £ 100 million mission to build a space “tow truck” designed to remove dead satellites from Earth’s orbit.
British engineers from aviation giant Airbus have created a space harpoon that could help capture unreliable satellites and bring them back to Earth.
The 3-foot (95 cm) missile would be fired from a “hunter-killer” spacecraft, which would pull it back – and its prey – using a rope.
A Russian startup hopes a spacecraft spewing out foam that catches debris like a spider web and throws it into Earth’s atmosphere to burn it might be the solution.
StartRocket is developing a “Foam Debris Catcher,” which is a series of small autonomous satellites that collect and deorbit space junk using a sticky polymer foam.
WHAT IS SPACE JUNK? MORE THAN 170 MILLION PIECES OF DEAD SATELLITES, SPENT ROCKETS AND FLAKES OF PAINT CAN “THREATEN” THE SPACE INDUSTRY
There are around 170 million pieces of so-called “ space junk ” – left over after missions that can be as large as spent rocket stages or as small as flakes of paint – orbiting next to around 700 billion dollars (555 billion pounds) of space infrastructure.
But only 22,000 are tracked, and with the fragments able to travel at speeds in excess of 16,777 mph (27,000 km / h), even small pieces could seriously damage or destroy the satellites.
However, traditional gripping methods don’t work in space, as the suction cups don’t work under a vacuum and the temperatures are too low for substances like tape and glue.
Magnet-based grippers are useless because most of the debris orbiting the Earth is not magnetic.
About 500,000 pieces of man-made debris (artist’s impression) currently orbit our planet, consisting of disused satellites, fragments of spacecraft and spent rockets
Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, require or cause a strong interaction with debris, which could push those objects in unintended and unpredictable directions.
Scientists point to two events that seriously worsened the space junk problem.
The first was in February 2009, when an Iridium telecommunications satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided.
The second was in January 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite weapon on an old Fengyun weather satellite.
Experts also pointed to two sites that have become worryingly messy.
One is the low earth orbit which is used by satellite navigation satellites, the ISS, China’s manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others.
The other is in geostationary orbit and is used by satellites for communications, weather and surveillance which must maintain a fixed position relative to the Earth.