Forget your morning flight – we now have a congestion in space

Gone are the days of traffic jams that were only a problem for drivers on their way to work: we now have to think about congesting satellites in outer space as well.

As it turned out, an increasing number of active satellites is positively associated with such risks as orbital overlap and debris collision. And with the impending launches looming, experts are exploring how Low Earth Orbit (or Low Earth Orbit) might happen. The area around the Earth that contains At an altitude of less than 1000 kmor about 620 miles It can accommodate the increasing number of satellites that the private sector is expected to deploy in a safe and reasonable manner.

While LEO has not yet reached peak hour congestion levels, it is certainly on its way, according to Jonathan Rasmussen, an aeronautical engineer who has studied risk factors associated with orbital debris. “I hesitate to use the term ‘traffic jam’ because satellites cannot remain idle on their orbital highways,” Rasmussen says. “But crowding is definitely a concern.”

It’s crowded there

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has previously been criticized for saying,tens of billionsFrom satellites in low Earth orbit. A claim that has since been disavowed ‘Over-optimistic’ by experts.

Especially in low Earth orbit, the number of satellites has been steadily increasing: There are more than 5,400 satellites currently in orbit, according to Union of Concerned Scientists. That number is expected to rise exponentially as SpaceX urgently works to expand Starlink – the constellation of satellites – with launches so frequent weekly. The satellite communications company plans to build a giant constellation in low Earth orbit containing 42,000 satellites to achieve global high-speed Internet and telephone services. As of July, SpaceX already has Exceeded its record 2021 record of 31 launchesthe largest number of staging in a year.

“Huge constellations pose a huge risk for collisions in orbit,” Rasmussen says. “last year, Starlink satellites were already responsible for more than half of close encounters in orbit. Since then, they’ve gone 1700 more Satellites”

In addition to SpaceX’s ambitions, Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans to place 3,236 satellites in the orbHe. She. OneWeb, Iridium Next, GlobalStar and many more Other expected mega constellations are likely to add more than 8,600 satellites in LEO.

Up to 58,000 new satellites are expected to be launched into space by 2030, according to outer space. And while this is good news for space exploration and aviation innovation, this trend could violate the sustainability and viability of future space operations.

The dangers of space congestion

Both satellites and rocket objects add significant mass to LEO, and this crowding could cause disruption to the study of astronomy.

“Having too many satellites in orbit can make it difficult to detect near-Earth objects that could pose a collision risk,” Rasmussen says. “And clusters of satellites or a cloud of debris can disrupt the signals detected by radio astronomy.” Take, for example, the first recent imaging of Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which was achieved by combining data from multiple radio telescopes around the world. “Such endeavors to understand our universe are at risk due to congestion in orbit.”

Read more: The black hole in the heart of the Milky Way was photographed for the first time

The bulk of LEO satellites can also break into debris from collisions, explosions, or erosion in the harsh space environment. When satellites collide with each other, it can create dangerous fragments in space, which in turn increases the likelihood of collision.

Moving debris can lead to more space accidents and collisions, essentially perpetuating a vicious cycle and exacerbating an already large space junk problem. More than a million pieces of space debris between 1 centimeter and 10 centimeters high orbit the Earth, according to another Report. Of this million, 30,000 pieces are over 10 centimeters long in each European Space Agency (ESA).

Orbital collisions can also pose a major threat to many of the pleasures of the status quo in everyday life. Consumers could lose access to the Internet, for example, but the ripple effects will extend to many industries such as the financial and transportation sectors.

“If a catastrophe occurs, the repercussions will spill over into society,” Rasmussen says, citing consequences such as banking delays and disruption of GPS signals. “Our lives are so intertwined with the regular operation of satellites, and if we lose them it will be like a force suddenly exploding at night and humans stumbling our way through the darkness to find light bulbs and candles.”

What’s next?

Currently all major space agencies collaborate in object tracking and collision avoidance through the Interagency Space Debris Coordination Committee (your hands), which is an intergovernmental forum for the international coordination of space waste and debris, both natural and man-made. Includes instructions for your hands Disable satellites at the end of their life cycle By venting fuel and residual material that could lead to explosions and lowering the satellites to enough distance in the atmosphere to ensure their disintegration within 25 years. Airlines can use the organization’s publicly published recommendations to create systems and missions to reduce debris and avoid collisions.

However, these best practices have more teeth as they become agency-set requirements for their contractors, such as NASA’s NPR 8715.6 — the agency’s mandatory orbital debris requirements, according to Rasmussen. “But as we have seen recently with the planned Russian withdrawal from the International Space Station, state agencies are not immune to geopolitical conflict,” Rasmussen says. “And although Roscosmos – Russia’s state space enterprise – is part of the IADC, it didn’t stop their home country from conducting an anti-satellite weapons test (ASAT) last year and generating thousands of pieces of additional debris. YADC is a scientific collaboration. It needs to A more compelling political equivalent.”

That’s why experts say so Regulation You should be at the forefront of any conversations regarding the future growth of the space sector. In general, preventing satellite congestion requires a multi-tiered approach including active debris removal, policies that require launch providers and satellite operators to de-orbit systems at the end of life, and cases that disavow further ASAT testing. Only time will tell if these guidelines will be implemented in time by public and private space operators as they continue to launch more satellites.

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