The next trash problem is in low-earth orbit

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/12/05/the-next-trash-problem-is-in-low-earth-orbit.html

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The Kessler syndrome is a self correcting problem. Wait long enough, and that stuff will - eventually - come down of its own accord.

What’s that, you say you don’t have the patience to wait that long? Space exploration may just not be for you then. Perhaps undersea exploration might be more to your liking…

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It is not the next trash problem, it is already a big trash problem.

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So, shouldn’t we start to mandate that satellites need a way to re-enter the atmosphere after it’s end of life? Could this be accomplished with something as simple as a small solid rocket (like one used in model rocketry), or even something akin to a blank bullet. Something small and compact with a dense amount of one time energy that would push the object back into the atmosphere where it should mostly burn up.

Though perhaps I am naive on the forces that would be required to make this happen.

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Ping’ers vs. Arc’ers. Seveneves. Still a great book.

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In fact, the FCC does require a 25 year end of life plan for all satellites launched. I believe the ESA has a similar rule.

Another problem that doesn’t get enough ink is that we’re losing the night sky to all this private space exploitation. Musk’s stupid plan of launching a bazillion little satellites for Internet, for example, may well ruin ground-based star analysis forever. Everywhere you look will be filled with close fast moving artifacts that will be difficult to filter out. “Won’t someone please think of the astronomers” is not a very compelling case to the general public to stop such efforts, though.

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Huh. I had to look up spoilers to understand your reference. Spoiler Alert! Arcers vs Pingers make up the denouement of that novel.

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There is apparently quite a lot of organic waste floating around too.

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On the other hand, once there’s enough orbital debris we can go back to saying that the sky is the limit

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It’s also much more of a problem for higher orbits like the Iridium satellite example. The very low orbits like used by imaging and these new mega-consetllations like the spacex one have much shorter lifetimes. I think the spacex satellites have an orbital lifetime of 5-10 years when intact and at operating orbit. They launch to a significantly lower orbit and perform self tests while raising their orbit over the course of weeks. Part of the point of that is so that if they are damaged or defective during launch they fall back to earth within a very short time. Small debris from an exploded satellite would de-orbit even faster due to the square/cube law. All satellites are now required to have a deorbit plan – so despite the rapidly expanding numbers, a lot of the problems actually come from older satellites that really were launched with no thought to space debris.

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It will take hundreds of years for all of those tens of thousands of orbits to decay. So we’re talking about not being able to safely launch into LEO for the next several lifetimes.

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Also the anime:


While interesting in that the basic premise of the work is addressing the potential risk for Kessler syndrome, the method employed is a little naive (basically hand collecting debris). What’s more interesting is the interpersonal drama that takes place over the backdrop of this premise.
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Where is Adam Quark, and the United Galactic Sanitation Patrol when you need them!???

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Or Roger Wilco even

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The Weekly World News was ahead of its time… again.

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Millions of luggage items are lost each year, stuff has got to wind up somewhere

 

Source:

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