26 May

The Future of Space Exploration & Junk Removal Concerns

Why are we so focused on space exploration when there are so many challenges on Earth?
Max Polyakov claims that space instruments can help us address Earth-based challenges in various ways, from resource management to timely reactions to natural disasters. Small satellite constellations will soon unite the globe taking broadband internet to every corner of our planet.
However, when we reap the advantages of our helpers in orbits, we must keep in mind the dangers of space junk accumulating in our planet's orbits. If we do not, we may pollute space just as we already polluted our air, ground, and waters.
Hundreds of spacecraft are operational in geostationary orbit (GEO), 30,000 km above the Earth's surface. Those are primary communication and weather satellites, but the major concern is that they share the orbit with spacecraft that has been defunct for some time now — that is, with space junk.
Still, the number of space junk in GEO is relatively small, especially if we compare it with defunct spacecraft in low-Earth orbit (LEO). LEO is the closest orbit to Earth, just 2,000 kilometers above its level. It hosts plenty of satellites that run the risk of colliding with space debris. More importantly, any spacecraft that needs to travel to higher orbits (or the Moon or other planets) will have to pass through LEO. And rapidly circling space junk in this area poses severe dangers to operational spacecraft.

How Can We Deal with Space Junk?

NASA has been working on recommendations to alleviate the space junk issue since the mid-1990s. Today, the Space Debris Coordination Committee includes ten more countries introducing more guidelines to combat this issue. In the meantime, private aerospace companies are looking for solutions of their own. They build satellites with different innovative thrusters to de-orbit defunct spacecraft and send it back to Earth's upper atmosphere, where they can burn on the descent. In addition, researchers are looking for ways to make space tugs and other devices used for space junk removal more eco-friendly.
However, Max Polyakov believes that, besides existing space junk removal, the businesses should focus on leaving less debris behind. Today, private aerospace companies are planning to launch hundreds of new satellites into orbit. Eventually, they will all become space junk. So, a more sustainable solution is necessary.
That is why guidelines from NASA and other international space organizations could play an essential role in future space regulations. Still, Dr. Max Polyakov believes that aerospace companies may need to team up to tackle this issue. As ever more companies are interested in space exploration, cleaning up LEO (and keeping it that way) is a task that can result in a very effective collaboration across different industries.
Although space debris poses a serious danger to operational spacecraft, it also provides an opportunity to solve many problems – both for space exploration and our challenges right here, on Earth.

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