Space debris – detritus orbiting the earth from satellites – is a growing problem that threatens the future of human space exploration.
To address this problem, Economy Secretary Alok Sharma has announced through the UK Space Agency (UKSA) that seven million pounds will be funded for seven space cleaning programs.
Astronomers fear that high-quality vehicles in near-earth orbit like the International Space Station (ISS) could be destroyed by a piece of rogue.
There is currently no way to closely monitor and track small pieces of debris that could be heading for a multi-million pound satellite.
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This infographic shows which countries have the most space debris. It shows that Russia is responsible for 14,403 pieces and the US is in second place with 8,734
Seven programs to clean up space debris
Working on photonic technologies to detect objects in orbit and determine if they are junk or satellite.
This project focuses on the design, prototyping, and demonstration of a low-cost, low-earth orbit optical surveillance sensor.
A prototype with an eye measuring 40 x 40 square meters is being built.
In the final solution, ‘9 eyes’ are combined.
Lift me off
The project will create an AI-powered algorithm that can distinguish between junk and actual satellites.
Optimize and use existing sensors to detect and identify objects moving around a spaceship.
Fujitsu and Amazon
Fujitsu and Amazon will develop machine learning methods to integrate space debris planning into existing missions.
Mr Sharma said this will improve the economic viability of missions aimed at removing debris.
The project will quickly design and deploy a highly affordable prototype optical camera system to track objects in near-earth orbit.
Will make “significant improvements” to Andor’s existing very large area (17 megapixel / 70mm diagonal) scientific CMOS camera from Balor.
The proposed project will significantly increase the sensitivity of Balor, resulting in significantly faster imaging and / or allowing the tracking of smaller debris in orbit.
It is believed that around 160 million pieces of debris are floating around the earth, trapped in our planet’s gravity, and moving at 18,000 miles per hour.
Of these, nearly a million are believed to be larger than 1 cm. If either of these were to collide with a satellite, the damage would be devastating.
Not only would it destroy the vehicle, but it would likely set off a chain reaction as countless satellites would be disabled.
This would have a catastrophic impact on life on earth as modern society relies on satellite services for GPS, mobile communications and weather forecasting.
“Millions of space debris orbiting the earth pose a significant threat to UK satellite systems, which provide the vital services we all take for granted – from cellular communications to weather forecasting,” said Business Secretary Alok Sharma.
He told The Telegraph that room cleaning measures must be taken now before it is too late.
“If we don’t take action now, low-earth orbit could become too dangerous for satellites or even humans on the International Space Station,” he said.
There is currently no way to remove space debris, and only the largest objects in orbit can be detected.
It is hoped that the £ 1 million funding will help make this possible from the UK.
It has been assigned seven different projects, each with a unique plan, to improve our understanding of our Muck orbit.
A project called “Life Me Off” will create an AI-powered algorithm that can distinguish between junk and actual satellites.
Another, called Lumi Space, uses lasers to track and image the objects.
These seven have cut a total of 26 proposals, according to UKSA.
Graham Turnock, UK Space Agency’s chief executive officer, said: “People probably don’t know how crowded space is.
“You would never let a car drive down a highway full of broken glass and debris, and yet satellites and the space station have to navigate their orbits every day.
‘In this new age of space mega-constellations, the UK has the inevitable opportunity to lead the way in monitoring and combating this space debris.
“This funding will help us seize this opportunity to create coveted expertise and new high-quality jobs across the country.”
To solve the problem of space debris, Economy Secretary Alok Sharma (pictured on Downing Street on Monday) has announced through the UK Space Agency (UKSA) that seven million pounds will be funded for seven space cleaning programs.
While government funding will help astronomers identify space debris and avoid collisions, plans are also underway to actively remove space debris.
ClearSpace, a Swiss company, has received ESA approval for a £ 100 million mission to build a space tow truck to remove dead satellites from orbit.
British engineers at the aviation giant Airbus have developed a space harpoon that can be used to capture rogue satellites and retract them back to Earth.
The 95 cm rocket would be fired from a “hunter-killer” spaceship that would pull it – and its prey – back with a string.
A Russian startup hopes that a foam-spewing spaceship that catches debris like a spider web and throws it into the earth’s atmosphere to burn it could be the solution.
StartRocket is developing a “Foam Debris Catcher”, a series of small and autonomous satellites that use a sticky polymer foam to collect and orbit space debris.
WHAT IS SPACE JUNK? MORE THAN 170 MILLION PIECES OF DEAD SATELLITES, USED ROCKETS AND COLORS OF COLORS ARE “DANGER” TO THE SPACE INDUSTRY
In orbit there is an estimated 170 million pieces of so-called “space junk” left behind after missions that can be as large as spent rocket stages or as small as flakes of paint, and about $ 700 billion (£ 555 billion) in space infrastructure.
But only 22,000 are tracked, and with the fragments, which can travel at speeds in excess of 27,000 km / h, even tiny pieces can seriously damage or destroy satellites.
However, traditional gripping methods don’t work in space because suction cups don’t work in a vacuum and temperatures are too cold for substances like tape and glue.
Magnet based claws are useless as most debris in orbit is non-magnetic.
There are currently around 500,000 man-made debris (artist impression) orbiting our planet consisting of decommissioned satellites, spacecraft and spent rockets
Most of the proposed solutions, including rubble harpoons, require or cause strong interaction with the rubble, which can push these objects in unintended, unpredictable directions.
Scientists point to two events that have made the space debris problem much worse.
The first was in February 2009 when an Iridium telecommunications satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided.
The second was in January 2007 when China tested an anti-satellite weapon on an old Fengyun weather satellite.
Experts also pointed to two locations that are worryingly overcrowded.
One of them is near-earth orbit, which is used by navigation satellites, the ISS, China’s manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others.
The other is in geostationary orbit and is used by communications, weather, and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to Earth.