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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kessler Syndrome

- The Kessler Syndrome is a scenario, proposed by NASA consultant Donald J. Kessler, in which the volume of space debris in Low Earth Orbit is so high that objects in orbit are frequently struck by debris, creating even more debris and a greater risk of further impacts. The implication of this scenario is that the escalating amount of debris in orbit could eventually render space exploration, and even the use of satellites, infeasible for many generations. - Wikipedia

When I read that two satellites had collided in space, I was not much surprised - the amount of stuff in orbit around the earth is huge - and I wondered why none of the neat ideas come up with over the years by science fiction writers to take care of the problem had never been explored :) Here's just the beginning of an article that shows what I mean .....


Terminator Tether - EDT Solution To Space Debris Update

You wouldn't think that humanity has been this busy in space - but there are over nine thousand satellites and other large objects in orbit around the Earth, along with many smaller objects. These objects include spent vehicle upper stages, separation bolts, lens caps, momentum flywheels, nuclear reactor cores, auxiliary motors and launch vehicle fairings. Material degradation due to atomic oxygen, solar heating and solar radiation produces particulate matter. Solid rocket motors used to boost satellite orbits leave motor casings, nozzle slag, solid-fuel fragments and exhaust cone bits. More than 124 satellite breakups have been verified; many more are believed to have occurred; these are generally caused by explosions and collisions. Satellites or other objects in orbit higher than 700 kilometers will stay there for hundreds of years; LEO satellites have an average working life of just five years.

Studies have shown that low Earth orbit is not a limitless resource and should be managed more carefully. Some sort of debris-mitigation measures are needed to solve the problem of old, unusable satellites and space junk.

Arthur C. Clarke had exactly this problem when he was trying to build his fictional space elevator in his wonderful 1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise; he initiated Operation Cleanup:

For two hundred years, satellites of all shapes and sizes, from loose nuts and bolts to entire space villages, had been accumulating in Earth orbit. All that came below the extreme elevation of the Tower, at any time, now had to be accounted for, since they created a possible hazard...

Fortunately, the old orbital forts were superbly equipped for this task...
(Read more about Operation Cleanup)


Nothing says "forever" like a vacuum :)


Blogger cowboyangel said...

That was pretty weird, huh - the two satellites colliding? I had never heard this theory, but I do wonder about all the crap up there. It's just a continuation of the way we've treated the Earth. Dump our crap and move on to a new area and dump it there.

There's a funny scene in WALL-E where he passes through all the junk orbiting the earth and winds up with something in his face. Junk and its production and accumulation is one of the main elements in the film.

11:52 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'll have to rent that movie - I think Ben Witherington also really liked it and had a post about it.

1:34 PM  

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