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Space Debris

Discussion in 'Education & Personal Growth' started by kkrish, Apr 6, 2019.

  1. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Dear Readers
    The below query was posted by @Afresh in the Asteroid thread.
    I wanted to merely provide information on Space debris so that viewers can visualize the conditions for themselves.

    I have tried my best to present the information as logically I could, while not elaborating too much. Please ask questions or for clarifications.
    **********************************************
    Man-made satellites have become essential in our present daily lives. From telephones, to television, to GPS, to weather forecast... we need to keep the satellites up there.

    The first satellite was launched in 1957 (Sputnik) and since then thousands of satellites have followed, launched by more than 40 countries, both, for new operations and as replacement for defunct sate
    llites.

    According to a 2018 estimate, some 4,900 remain in orbit, of those about 1,900 were operational; while the rest have lived out their useful lives and become space debris.

    A satellite's life-span is about 15 years +/- a few years. Satellites are exposed to extremely harsh environment which causes erosion of the structures and apparatus, eventually leading to a non-functional satellite. Some disintegrate into smaller pieces over time.

    While in the early days not much attention was paid, now this debris has grown so much that steps are being taken, and better solutions are being researched to reduce the existing debris.

    When satellites become defunct these are the steps that are taken to clear up the field for the working satellites and the International Space Station.

    1. The smaller satellites are brought closer to Earth where, when Earth’s gravity pulls them down, they burn up completely or partially. The unburnt remnants are steered to fall into a part of the Pacific Ocean (known as Spacecraft Cemetery) to avoid damage to lives. This is a highly controlled maneuver.

    2. Space junk that are very large are currently sent to an higher orbit, at 22,400 miles above Earth known as “graveyard orbit” where they will remain till we figure out how to remove them.

    Despite these planned actions, there still remain “junk” that are remnants of disintegration, or blasts that occur when the fuel remains in some rocket launch remnants become hot and cause explosions.

    Here is an illustration of the space junk around our Earth.
    download.jpg
    image source: NASA

    These debris travel at speeds up to 17,500 mph. At this rate even a small piece can cause severe damage to an object, be it another satellite or spacecraft. Many of space shuttle windows were damaged and on analysis were found to be caused by tiny specks of paint.

    These tiny flecks of paint and other material smaller than 5 cm cannot be tracked but still pose a threat.

    The NASA Orbital Space Program began in 1979 to look for ways to contain and reduce space debris. NASA, in collaboration with the Department of Defense track all the debris from as small as 5 cm diameter. More than 500,000 pieces of debris, or “space junk,” are tracked as they orbit the Earth.

    The International Space Station.

    The US Space Surveillance Network (SSN) constantly checks for position of the ISS and the space debris. When a possible collision is detected to the ISS, the Debris Avoidance Maneuvers are performed. The ISS has performed more than 15 such maneuvers.

    A Debris Avoidance Maneuver may include:

    1. Moving the astronauts to a safety module and be prepared to exit the ISS and return to Earth. This is not a few minutes job. Takes at least a couple of hours to move to the module after readying the ISS for abandonment.

    2. Move the ISS to another orbit level. This involves a lot of energy and fuel.
    Also in terms of time. A number of experiments are being conducted aboard the ISS even as we read this. To shut down all experiments in a systematic manner and to restart again costs a lot of time and money.

    When fuel is spent, additional fuel has to be transported to the ISS. Yet again another un-budgeted expense.

    The Kessler syndrome

    When shrapnel from one exploding spacecraft collide with another spacecraft, the impact caused due to the high speed will cause the other spacecraft to explode and spread shrapnel, which in turn will do the same. This collision cascade will eventually turn extremely dangerous to life aboard the ISS and to those on Earth also.

    The 2007 anti-satellite test conducted by China and the 2009 accidental collision of the Russian and American satellites have added a total of 5,000 pieces to the space junk.


    Information source: NASA, ESA, and personal discussions with a few space scientists

     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2019
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  2. shravs3

    shravs3 IL Hall of Fame

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    Very informative @kkrish.
    From long time I have a doubt.
    Are you working in a field related to Astro physics or it’s your passion towards it?
    That field is very interesting
     
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  3. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Thank you for your first feedback @shravs3 .
    Space is just my passion. My father introduced me to that wonderful world when I was about 11 years old. He became member of the Madras Astronomical Society and would take me to the meetings at Ramakrishna Mission High School in T. Nagar. The then Chennai skies also helped, where we could clearly see the stars.
    My dad showed me how to find the constellations, first Scorpio and then Leo, and then others.
    My marriage also brought me together with a space lover. Here is how we met Adda Da Hangout!
    :)
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2019
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  4. GeetaKashyap

    GeetaKashyap IL Hall of Fame

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  5. Srama

    Srama Finest Post Winner

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    A topic I will come back to read @kkrish! Just wanted to thank you first with a promise to respond soon!
     
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  6. satchitananda

    satchitananda Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    That's a wonderful explanation. Reading information such as this one, I am often tempted to ask whether we are really so smart, and whether our 'achievements' are really worthy of being celebrated. Of course, if I were to voice this aloud, I'd be the recipient of many brickbats which could be as lethal as all that debris in space knocking out other space satellites. Naturally everyone would point out the need as well as the benefits we reap thanks to those discoveries. The very fact that I am reading your threads and able to jabber endlessly here is also thanks to those discoveries. But the price we pay is indeed a heavy one, not to speak of the higher price paid by the universe for all our follies and greed.
     
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  7. Thyagarajan

    Thyagarajan IL Hall of Fame

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    :hello:Quite impressive very quick gathering and discussion with concerned scientists and prompt posting to clear the debri and doubts asked and unasked.
    2. Thanks and regards and thanks are also due to @Afresh for raising pertinent quer in other blog of this bloggist.
    God helps and surrounds satellites His own & those of men!
     
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  8. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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  9. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Looking forward to your feedback Sabs.
     
  10. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Thank you Sir.
    I already know most of the information because of my constant following of what happens in the space world and I also watched the NASA Chief's address live on TV. I just needed confirmation of the numbers and also to write this up in a logical and orderly manner. The latter takes most of my time.
     
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