The Debris Of Space

Akankshya Pradhan

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With the advancing technologies and scientific revolution, humans have conquered profuse sectors of the world and even beyond that. But this tenacity for modernization has put a lot of things at stake and created many troubles. One such issue is pollution. Not only the Earth but due to the progressive space missions, space has also been defiled.

The junks of space remain a prime concern as well as an impending hazard for humankind. Space debris is the trash accumulated in space from the remnants of human-built spacecraft and rocket bodies, either broken or fragmented from the main body, or else disintegrated from it due to erosion and collisions. Thus, this debris is an external diseconomy and disadvantageous object around the Earth’s orbit.

According to the reports of the US Space Surveillance Report in October 2019, nearly 20,000 artificial bodies are revolving around our planet, out of which only 2,218 objects are functioning satellites. Maybe we took a long time to take this into concern, but yes, even space is turning into garbage due to human interference over sixty years.

Even if we keep the issue of pollution aside, then there is another major, probably the most dangerous threat to our civilization due to space trash. Numerous spacecrafts, both manned and unmanned have been distracted from their pre-decided path, and some of them have been shattered due to interruption by the space debris. Even the smallest object like paint flecks and exhaust particles can cause disastrous damage like sandblasting and fatal impairment to optics and solar arrays.

The accumulation of the wrecks started with the very first launch of Sputnik 1, an artificial satellite in 1957. Then no one had foreseen this problem. The concern regarding space pollution flinched into minds in the 1980s and NASA, along with other U.S. Space related bodies tried to limit the growth of space debris. An eye was kept on the debris by tracking them through radar and optical detectors. LIDAR is one such method to measure the range of these artificial objects.

Nevertheless, in 2006, a NASA model evinced that even if no new launches took place, the ecosystem would retain life till 2055, after which the debris would increase on its own due to collision amongst the existing debris. In its 2011 report, U.S. National Research Council had warned that the amount of space junk was at a critical level. Hence, the need was to focus on removing the space waste.

Till today’s date, researchers are working on how to clean the mess that we created in space. Developers are working on a cleanup CubeSat, namely OSCaR (Obsolete Spacecraft Capture and Removal), which would have the capacity to hunt down de-orbit debris using nets and tethers. It is so surprising that a miniature satellite could be used to remove such a vast quantity of space thrash. In this regard, a Russian startup called “StartRocket” developing a “Foam Debris Catcher”, that would use sticky polymer foam in place of nets to clean the space junk. Still, the cleaning of the whole junk may take centuries and the economy is also going to suffer for this cause.

To catch the remnants of previous space missions, we need another space mission! For this, the European Space Agency (ESA) has initiated the first Active Debris Removal Project, i.e. removal of in-orbit waste. Clearspace-1 of ESA will be the first space mission to remove an item of debris from orbit. The test launch is planned to be held in 2025.

As there is a ray of hope from this mission, we still need to cogitate whether we are leading to destruction. The space around our planet is polluted due to our own negligence. This raises a vital question. With the inflaming urge of modernization, will we get extinguished by our own creation much before any external force?