What is space debris and how much junk is India responsible for? – Technology News, Firstpost

We have a space problem and when we talk about space we don’t mean in terms of area, but we are talking about the cosmos!

According to the most recent report from Orbital Debris Quarterly News, published by NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, there are 25,182 pieces of space debris, larger than 10 cm, in Earth’s lower orbits that are within 2,000 km of Earth’s surface.

Of these, India is responsible for only 114 space debris objects, while the United States has 5,126 objects that can be categorized as space debris in Earth’s orbit and China has 3,854 objects, including spent rocket bodies, orbiting the Earth.

The report also noted that the amount of space debris in India had fallen to 2018 levels after peaking in 2019 when it conducted its first-ever anti-satellite test.

Also read: 27,000 man-made objects in orbit, and counting: space junk is here to stay

Before we dive deeper into the report, let’s understand what space debris is and why it could be a problem.

What is space debris?

Space debris, also known as space junk, is any man-made object in orbit that no longer serves a useful purpose.

Large objects such as dead satellites that have fallen out or been left in orbit or smaller things, such as bits of debris or paint stains that have fallen from a rocket, are all excellent examples of space debris.

Britannica explains that this material could be as large as a discarded rocket stage or as small as a microscopic piece of paint. Much of the debris is in low Earth orbit, within 2,000 km (1,200 miles) of Earth’s surface, although some debris can be found in geosynchronous orbit 35,786 km (22,236 miles) above the equator.

According to experts, all space debris is the result of us launching objects from Earth. Debris or satellites left behind at higher elevations of 36,000 kilometers — where communications and weather satellites are often placed in geostationary orbits — can continue to orbit the Earth for hundreds or even thousands of years.

In other cases, space junk can form when two satellites collide or during anti-satellite tests.

Anti-satellite tests are rare, but there have been instances where the US, China and even India used a missile to blow up their own satellite, creating thousands of new pieces of debris.

India’s anti-sat test and the resulting debris

The issue of space debris first became big news when India conducted Mission Shakti, an anti-satellite missile test, from the launch complex on March 27, 2019. APJ Abdul Kalam Island.

In the test, India destroyed a defunct Indian satellite orbiting the Earth 300 km away. The incident became big news when India became only the fourth country after the US, China and Russia to have such technology.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had praised the move, saying it was “historic”.

However, the move drew criticism from NASA with its administrator — Jim Bridenstine — who said the test created 60 pieces of orbital debris large enough to track, 24 of which were higher than the International Space Station’s orbit around Earth.

Bridenstine had said at the time that such movements were unacceptable. “That’s terrible, terrible, to create an event that sends debris into an apogee going over the International Space Station,” Bridenstine said at a City Hall meeting, which was streamed live on NASA TV. “And that kind of activity is incompatible with the future of human spaceflight that we need to see happen.”

A year later, NASA found at least 28 pieces of debris from the A-SAT rocket test, according to a report published in The Print.

According to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, NASA initially tracked at least 101 pieces of debris from the A-SAT test, 28 of which were in low Earth orbit.

Also read: Debris from India’s anti-satellite test still hurtling in orbit, and now we may know why

Dangers of space debris

The biggest problem with space junk is the danger it poses to other satellites in orbit. The space debris can hit these satellites and potentially damage or destroy them.

The debris could also increase costs for satellite operators. Industry experts estimate that protecting and reducing space debris accounts for about 5-10 percent of the cost of satellite missions.

Space debris can also potentially create unusable orbital areas due to pollution.

Can we clean up space junk?

According to NASA, debris in orbit less than 600 kilometers will fall back to Earth in a few years, but above 1000 kilometers it will continue to orbit Earth for another century or more.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency teamed up with Astroscale, a Japanese start-up, to find and recover used satellites and other space debris.

The European Space Agency is partnering with Swiss start-up ClearSpace to launch a mission in 2025.

In India, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) explored the technologies needed to actively remove debris.

Minister of State in the PMO Jitendra Singh said ISRO has established the Space Situational Awareness and Management Directorate to deal with space debris issues.

With input from agencies

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