In space, no one can keep it clean, as the total mass of all objects in orbit is said to be around 9,900 tons.
To combat this, Chinese scientists have developed a huge sail that they say can be used to change the orbit of dead rockets and satellites so they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere and don’t become space junk.
The 269-square-foot (25-square-meter) “de-orbiting sail” works by slowly slowing down its non-existent payload until it can be moved out of orbit.
The debris will then burn up in Earth’s atmosphere over several years, a process that could otherwise take more than a hundred years.
The sail was developed and successfully tested by Institute 805 of the Shanghai Academy of Space Technology (SAST) in China, according to an English-language Chinese newspaper. Global Times.
The news comes after the British government announced last month that it wants to start fighting the millions of debris in Earth’s orbit.
This includes regulating commercial satellite launches, rewarding companies that minimize their presence in Earth’s orbit, and allocating an additional £5 million for technology to clean up space debris.
The 269-square-foot sail is about one-tenth of a human hair thick.
The sail was installed on the payload capsule of the 300 kg Long March-2D Y64 launch vehicle launched into space on June 23, 2022.
It was successfully deployed into space on June 26, according to SAST systems engineers.
The sail uses drag generated by the thin atmosphere to slow down the defunct spacecraft it is attached to, allowing it to leave its original orbit and enter Earth’s atmosphere.
HOW MANY OBJECTS ARE IN ORBIT?
- Rocket launches since 1957: 6200
- Number of satellites in orbit: 13 100
- The number is still in space: 8410
- The number is still valid: 5800
- Number of garbage objects: 31 500
- Breaks, explosions, etc.: 630
- Mass of objects in orbit: 9900 tons
- Predicting the amount of debris in orbit using statistical models
- More than 10cm: 36 500
- from 1 cm to 10 cm: 1,000,000
- from 1 mm to 1 cm: 130 million
Source: European Space Agency
The sail was tested by installing it on the payload capsule of the 300-kilogram Long March-2D Y64 launch vehicle launched into space on June 23, 2022.
The sail was successfully deployed in space three days later, according to the state-run Global Times, which spoke to SAST systems engineers on Tuesday.
It is less than one-tenth the diameter of a hair, meaning it can fit on many spacecraft, the space agency claims.
According to SAST, this is the first time in the world that a deorbiting system has been deployed in this way.
The sail uses drag generated by the thin atmosphere to slow down the defunct spacecraft it is attached to, allowing it to leave its original orbit and enter Earth’s atmosphere, where it burns up.
This could reduce the orbital time of the debris from over a hundred years to less than ten, although in this case it should only take two years.
The European Space Agency estimates that about 13,100 satellites have been launched into orbit since 1957, of which 8,410 remain in space and 5,800 are still operational.
The total mass of all objects in orbit is about 9900 tons, and statistical models suggest the presence of 130 million fragments ranging in size from 1 mm to 1 cm.
It can pose a threat to active spacecraft, for example, in 2009, an active US Iridium-33 communications satellite collided with an inoperative Russian Cosmos-2251 when they both flew over the far north of Siberia.
This single accident generated over 2,300 pieces of debris and put Iridium 33 out of action.
A computer generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95 percent of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e. non-functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each element
The data shows that Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink satellites are responsible for more than half of orbital close collisions, even if just 1,500 out of a planned 12,000 have been launched so far.
Satellite operators like SpaceX are constantly forced to make adjustments to avoid collisions with other spacecraft and debris.
With hundreds of Starlink satellites in orbit, dangerous encounters will continue to rise, according to a study by the University of Southampton.
The researchers found that Starlink satellites are involved in an average of 1,600 close encounters with other spacecraft every week, including when the two objects are about half a mile apart. Space.com report.
If two spacecraft crash in orbit, they will create a cloud of debris, which in turn will threaten other satellites operating in the same region of space.
Last month, UK government announced a series of new measures aimed at building resilience in space and helping to clean up the millions of pieces of debris littering Earth orbit.
The measures include the Active Debris Removal program, which includes the launch of a new spacecraft to physically collect and destroy fragments of space debris floating around the Earth.
The project, which will receive £5 million in funding from the UK government, is due to launch in 2026.
They also plan to regulate commercial satellite launches and encourage companies that minimize their presence in Earth’s orbit.
The UK also wants to launch a spacecraft capable of grabbing two dead satellites and forcing them back into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up.
If successful, this first-of-its-kind feat will prove that a single spacecraft can remove more than one piece of debris.
The spacecraft could also potentially stay in orbit around the Earth and refuel so it can deal with more debris.
The UK wants to launch a spacecraft that can stay in orbit and remove a lot of debris, causing it to burn up in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, as shown in this picture above.
WHAT IS SPACE GARBAGE? OVER 170 MILLION DEAD SATELLITES, SPENT ROCKETS AND PAINT COTTON POSE A “THREAK” TO THE SPACE INDUSTRY
It is estimated that there are about 170 million pieces of so-called “space junk” left behind from missions the size of spent rocket stages or the size of paint flakes, as well as about $700 billion (£555 billion) from space. infrastructure.
But only 27,000 are being tracked, and fragments capable of moving at over 16,777 miles per hour (27,000 km/h), even tiny pieces, can severely damage or destroy satellites.
However, traditional gripping methods don’t work in space because suction cups don’t work in a vacuum and the temperature is too cold for things like tape and glue.
Magnets based grippers are useless because most of the debris in orbit around the Earth is not magnetic.
Approximately 500,000 man-made debris (artist’s impression) is currently orbiting our planet, consisting of obsolete satellites, spacecraft debris, and spent rockets.
Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, either require or cause a force interaction with the debris that can push those objects in unintended, unpredictable directions.
Scientists point to two events that greatly exacerbated the problem of space debris.
The first occurred in February 2009, when the Iridium telecommunications satellite and the Russian military satellite Kosmos-2251 accidentally collided.
The second incident occurred in January 2007, when China tested anti-satellite weapons on the old Fengyun meteorological satellite.
Experts also pointed to two sites that had become alarmingly cluttered.
One of these is low Earth orbit, which is used by satellite navigation satellites, the ISS, China’s manned missions, and the Hubble telescope, among others.
The other is in geostationary orbit and is used by communications, weather and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to the earth.