Saturday, October 16, 2021

Europeans to start rubbish collections – in space

Hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris circling the planet pose a threat to functioning satellites.

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The European Space Agency (ESA) says it is signing a contract worth US$102 million (RM415 million) with a Swiss start-up company to bring a large piece of orbiting trash back to Earth in five years’ time.

The agency said on Thursday that the deal with ClearSpace SA will lead to the “first active debris removal mission” in 2025, in which a custom-made spacecraft will capture and bring down part of a rocket once used to deliver a satellite into orbit, reports the Associated Press.

The object which will be removed from orbit is a Vespa payload adapter that was used to hold and then release a satellite in 2013 and has been orbiting with no function ever since. It weighs about 112kg.

The ESA hopes the mission to bring it back to Earth will be the first of many space rubbish collections.

Experts have long warned that hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris circling the planet pose a threat to functioning satellites and even the International Space Station.

If satellites which control and deliver the internet, GPS systems and most of the technology the world relies on are damaged by wandering space scrap the results could be catastrophic.

Moriba Jah, professor of aerospace engineering at The University of Texas, commented in USA Today that when it comes to space, the moon and Mars are already littered with human-made equipment left behind from previous missions. Some see these obsolete objects as monuments to humanity’s ingenuity, but in reality, they are simply junk.

The current tally of so-called resident space objects that are being tracked in orbit above Earth is heading for about 30,000 and, of these, only about 2,000 are working satellites. Everything else is defunct rubbish.

And more is being blasted into orbit every year. US companies alone intend to launch an additional 15,000 satellites within the next five years.

This makes predicting the motion of 30,000 objects difficult and thus a hazard to space safety and sustainability.

Teams from several countries are working on ways to tackle the problem.

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