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ESA Calls For Sustainable Future In Space, Cites Growing Problem Of Orbital Debris

23 April 2017, 8:35 am EDT By Kalyan Kumar Tech Times
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The European Space Agency (ESA) has called for coordinated international action to ensure sustainable future of space and spaceflights to tackle the worsening problem of space debris to mitigate the risk faced by functional satellites.

Noting that more than 750,000 pieces of dangerous debris are currently orbiting the Earth, the ESA made a clarion call for global cooperation at the concluding day of the Europe's largest-ever conference on space debris.

On the occasion, ESA Director General Jan Woerner called up all space stakeholders to join hands for cleaning up Earth's orbital environment at the earliest.

The European Conference on Space Debris was held at ESA's mission control center in Germany.

The ESA has already kick started a project called ESA Space Situational Awareness (SSA) at the last ministerial council meeting in 2016 seeking innovative services and space cooperation for economically viable spaceflights.

"We must sustain the dream of future exploration," Woerner said.

Areas Of Threat From Space Debris

The conference on space debris identified multiple threats from space debris including faulty disposal of defunct satellites and rocket stages plus the challenges posed by satellite mega-constellations now getting ready. They include the one planned by Space X owned by Elon Musk.

"Only about 60 percent of the satellites that should be disposed of at the end of their missions under current guidelines are, in fact, properly managed," noted Holger Krag, head of ESA's debris office.

At the conference, researchers called for an urgent removal of all defunct satellites from Earth's orbit before more junk comes from their disintegration.

According to Krag, the conference has demonstrated that it has the technology to mitigate the debris problem.

"However, implementation of these countermeasures is still a challenge, and this has the utmost importance in view of plans to deploy constellations of hundreds of satellites in space," added Krag.

Growing Danger And Some Inconvenient Truths

The statistics show that there had been more than 5,250 satellite launches since 1957 and the confirmed number comes to 23,000 at the orbit in which only 1,200 are working while the rest are junk.

Compounding the problem is the disintegration of derelict craft broken into some 750,000 pieces larger than 1 cm and another 166 million pieces bigger than 1 mm. These fragments are moving in high relative velocities with speeds exceeding bullets and can destroy space infrastructure of satellites working in the domain of telecom, weather, navigation, broadcast, and climate-monitoring.

The scientists at the conference expressed the view that any delay in clearing the space junk will entail a huge cost and heighten collision risk in the orbit as more satellites are being launched.

Safety Of International Space Station

Meanwhile, a short film produced by ESA and screened at the conference effectively conveyed the severity of the space junk problem.

The Space Debris: A Journey to Earth in the 3-D version duly projected the gravity of the issue and explained ESA is clamoring for fixing the space debris problem.

Meanwhile, space debris problem has also sparked concerns over the safety of the International Space Station which is in the low-Earth orbit.

According to NASA flight controller Robert Frost, space debris can cannibalize the ISS only if the space lab and debris start traveling in opposite directions.

ISS is well shielded by Whipple bumpers at the front with layers of spaces in between. At the space debris conference, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet also spoke about the safety of the ISS and said it is well guarded for objects up to 1 cm across.

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