The ISS escaped a collision with space debris after a Russian weapon test
Russia shot down one of its Soviet -era satellites in a weapons test on Monday, sending more than 1,500 pieces of traceable debris into space. This forced the astronauts to International Space Station to live for about two hours two spacecraft to get them back to Earth in the event of an impending collision. While the ISS seems clear at the moment, experts say the situation is still dangerous. Satellite operators will likely have to navigate around this new cloud of space waste for several years and possibly decades.
In fact, Russia’s most recent missile test could have increased the overall cost of waste in space, including discarded pieces of rockets and satellites in Earth orbit, as far as 10 percent. These shards rotate at much faster speeds and risk hitting active satellites powered by critical technologies, such as. GPS navigation and weather forecasting. Space debris like this is actually so dangerous that national security officials are worried it could be used as a weapon. upcoming space war. In fact, the State Department has already said that Monday’s missile test is evidence that Russia is more than willing to make wrecks that will endanger the safety of all countries operating in Earth’s lower orbit, and even the dangers of disturbing the peace of space.
These dangers have only heightened concerns that we are far from solving the space waste problem, especially with the launch of private companies and foreign governments. thousands of new satellites into orbit – inevitably create more waste in space.
Monday’s events, however, were more political than your typical space garbage incident. The Russian government has launched a so -called antisatellite testing (ASAT), which, as the name implies, is designed to destroy satellites in orbit. Launched from one site a few hundred miles north of Moscow, hit the missile a non-operational Russian spy satellite called Kosmos-1408 which has been orbiting the Earth since 1982. The satellite is now broken up into thousands of pieces that are currently orbiting the Earth at about 17,000 miles per hour, passing through the International Space Station almost every 90 minutes. While astronauts no longer need to take shelter, the threat to the ISS or other satellites has not disappeared.
“I am outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action,” NASA director Bill Nelson said in a statement. “With its long and historic history of space flight, it is inconceivable that Russia would endanger not only American and international fellow astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts.” Nelson added that Russia’s actions were “careless and dangerous” and also endangered those aboard the Tiangong space station in China.
While Russia claims to have destroyed a satellite in a recent test, its defense ministry insisted on the event did not put the ISS in danger.
Russia is one of four countries, including India, the U.S., and China, to fire its own satellite using antisatellite missiles. This trend is alarming because governments with ASAT systems could use technology to attack satellites in other countries, making space a battlefield. But even if countries are targeting their own space objects, Russia’s missile test shows how governments can also use antisatellite missiles to create the most dangerous ones in every country, company, or person. operating in orbit. And again, once these ruins are done, they can remain a threat for many years. Last week, the ISS had to adjust its altitude about a mile to avoid hitting space debris from a satellite shot down by China in 2007.
The problem of space waste is also growing. Currently, there are over 100 million pieces of garbage in space larger than a millimeter orbiting the Earth, according to NASA. And in May, the Department of Defense traced more than 27,000 large pieces of orbital debris, but even small pieces can still pose a significant risk of other satellites and space stations due to the extremely high speed of their travel.
“I don’t think you can overstate the danger of space debris at this point,” Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor at the U.S. Air Force School of Air and Space Studies, told Recode. “As you create a lot of debris, the chances that the debris will hit other objects and create more debris types will grow.”
What complicates the space waste problem is that I have no responsibility for it. According to Treaty of Outer Space, the foundation of international space law, countries remain the owners of whatever objects they send into space, so Russia still technically owns all satellite fragments created by Monday missile test of it. There is no global consensus on what the penalties are creating space junk is a must, and tracking and delivering different fragments of debris to different countries space operations is still difficult.
Government agencies and private space companies technology development to remove space debris, such as nets capture debris in orbit and tools which will push satellites into the atmosphere to disintegrate. But there are concerns that governments could use the same tools to capture satellites in another country. At the same time, the cost of creating space waste – and disposing of it – is rarely a factor in the decision to launch a car or satellite into space.
“In many ways, this is the same kind of problem, an environmental issue that we face on Earth in many, many forms,” Akhil Rao, an economist at Middlebury who studied space debris, Recode said. “We’re struggling with the collapse of fishing, we’re struggling with atmospheric pollution, [and] we are struggling to reduce ozone depletion. ”
Right now, the best way we have right now to address the high risk of orbital debris is to not create space junk in the first place. That could happen through better international cooperation or creating new economic incentives for private companies, but the sooner it happens, the better. While we are often able to navigate around the space debris that already exists, that becomes more and more difficult as more debris builds up. And if we can’t think of a solution in time, we could end up in a situation where the orbit of the lower Earth is so full of space debris that it can’t be navigated.