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Space junk is a growing problem. What can we do?

“The 360” presents various perspectives on the day’s top stories and controversies.

What happened

Debris from a rocket that China launched unharmed into the Indian Ocean on Sunday after uncertainty over where it landed. Most of the 20-ton rockets caught fire when they re-entered the atmosphere. But some items fell near the Maldives, according to the Chinese space agency. Prior to the accident, experts warned there was a small chance that debris would fall in the big city and cause serious damage.

The incident attracted international attention due to the size of the rocket portion and the confusion over the trajectory that might occur. But space debris has become a daily concern for scientists, as more frequent launches and Earth̵

7;s outer atmosphere is increasingly congested with satellites, the risk of rocket fragments falling into populated areas. It adds up as many countries and private companies expand their space ambitions. The most pressing issue that most experts agree on is the danger that the space debris circulating around the Earth is affecting critical satellite infrastructure and space exploration missions.

About 6,000 satellites now orbit the Earth, and more than half of them have died. If they collide, they can break into thousands of pieces that can hit other objects in orbit, potentially creating a chain reaction that can destroy everything in its path and render all parts of the orbit unusable. have In addition to larger objects, NASA estimates that there will be at least 26,000 debris the size of a softball or larger, which, due to its extraordinary speed, could destroy a satellite or spacecraft. There are also millions of tiny fragments, the size of a grain of sand, that could allow a space suit to penetrate.

Most of the problems with space debris today have But it gets worse when companies like SpaceX pursue plans to send thousands of communications satellites into orbit over the next few years.

Why is there some debate?

Space experts have widely agreed that space debris is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Scientists have proposed a variety of solutions, some of which use new technologies, some of which focus on policy changes to tackle the problem.

A number of companies are working on a system that could theoretically collect existing space debris, force it back into the atmosphere to burn or push it deeper into space, which is less risky than others. Assign all new satellites to have backup thrusters that will push them out of Earth’s orbit, a better way to track debris, and a high-powered laser capable of changing the orbit of potentially dangerous objects.

Many experts say space waste is a more policy issue than a technological idea. They argue that the area needs to have effective international laws as well as those that govern the oceans and skies to ensure countries and private businesses operate responsibly. Such efforts must start, many say, with major space powers such as the United States and China abandoning their competitive ambitions and working together to create a sustainable long-term plan for how humans will take advantage. From space


All countries must cooperate in cleaning up the area.

“The vital power must raise space regulation to the level of other threats to humanity, from climate change to nuclear proliferation. They should publicly identify the issue as a community tragedy and signal their readiness to initiate talks, regardless of the other conflicts they have with each other. The US is a clear country to lead. China, Russia and other countries should respond. ”- Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg

Strong international laws are needed to guide the solution to the space debris problem.

“In addition to legal techniques, debris removal presents complex policy challenges, geopolitical, economic and social. Who is responsible for debris disposal? Who should pay? What rights do extraterrestrial countries have in the debate? What debris should be preserved as an inheritance. ”- Steven Freeland and Annie Handmer, The Conversation

The emerging technology will soon be able to remove unwanted debris from orbit.

“The solution to the disposal of dangerous space debris could be a small, fridge-mounted spacecraft with a large magnet, or maybe an orbital tug that sends out swarms of tentacles to trap used rockets? If all goes well, a plan like this could be the first step in eliminating the constellation of metal junk orbiting Earth. ”- Eric Niiler, Late

More responsibility is needed for countries that launch unsafe rockets.

“Why is it possible that China or other distant space nations can launch massive rockets and let them willingly land on Earth? The answer is a policy failure: despite regulations on aerospace and operational But the problem of re-entry rockets is loosely regulated and poorly controlled, so countries have to cut corners and take the chance that the falling rocket won’t hit anything important. ”- Alex War Dovox

Improved debris tracking method prevents collisions.

“In theory, satellite operators should have enough space for all of these missions to fly safely without getting too close to other objects. So some scientists are tackling space junk by trying to understand where all the debris is with high precision. That would alleviate the need for many unnecessary maneuvers that are now used to avoid potential collisions. ”- Alexandra Witze Natural

The solution starts with being aware of the size of the problem.

“Until we acknowledge that the orbital gap that surrounds Earth is a finite resource, Chicken Little sounds less paranoid and more confident.” – Seth Shostak, NBC News.

The first step is to stop creating a lot of space junk in the first place.

“From my point of view, the best solution for dealing with space junk isn’t building it in the first place. Like many other environmental issues, pollution prevention is easier and less costly than later cleaning. Stop leaving anything in orbit after mission is complete. ”- Space Operations Specialist TS Kelso to Scientific American

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Image illustration: Yahoo News; Image: Getty Images

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