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Crashing Chinese Satellite is just the opening act



BERLIN – If you want to get a last look at the Chinese satellite Tiangong-1, you should hurry. The 19,000-pound satellite orbiting Earth at a speed of 17,500 mph every 90 minutes is likely to have disappeared by the end of this weekend to resurface as a fireball for a minute or more somewhere over the skies of southern Europe, perhaps somewhere else.

While no one can be sure of exactly where the decaying satellite could literally fall from the sky – with pieces weighing as much as 220 pounds that would reach the surface of the Earth – the fate of the satellite has long been sealed. And even if you miss those missing people, scientists say there will be much more in the dirty skies of Earth's orbit.

First warning signals for the Chinese station appeared in 201

6, when they did not respond to orders from their operators. Tiangong-1, a name translated as "Heavenly Palace," would eventually turn into "an artificial" meteor, according to my colleagues.

While the threat of debris hitting a human being is extremely small, the visual drama What is spreading across the European sky this weekend could only be a glimpse of a growing problem, based on monotonous predictions will manifest in the next few decades.

The European Space Agency estimates that there are more than 170 million pieces of space debris in circulation today, though only 29,000 of these are larger than about four inches. While such smaller space debris objects pose no threat to the earth as they would dissolve before they reach the surface, each of these objects can cause damage to a functioning spacecraft. For example, a collision with a (4-inch) object would result in catastrophic fragmentation of a typical satellite. "Smaller parts could still destroy spacecraft systems or penetrate shields, potentially preventing larger satellites like Tiangong-1 from responding and turn them into massive pieces of rubble.

Ever since the first satellites were brought to Earth in the mid-20th century Orbit has long been treated by nations as a garbage dump that no one felt responsible for – used missiles or old ones Satellites are now mingling with smaller pieces of garbage left behind by human space programs, all of which run faster than accelerating bullets.

And as the international community gradually becomes aware of the challenges that arise from doing so, there is a big one il of the damage already done.

At a conference in 2011, Gen. William Shelton, a commander of the Space Command of the US Air Force, predicted that much of the orbit around Earth could be "a pretty difficult area … in the not-too-distant future," according to the astronomy web site Space.com. The US military and NASA are both responsible for the most sophisticated system of tracking objects larger than four inches to predict their trajectories and eliminate active equipment.

The problem that Shelton hinted at at that time is that the accumulation of space debris itself is already enough to lead to an exponential increase in circulating parts. The more pieces there are, the higher the likelihood that they will collide – and even more smaller objects that can be extremely dangerous to other satellites or space labs.

On Earth, ecosystems can sometimes attach themselves to some extent, even if it could take decades or hundreds of years. But in space, the problem of debris will only get worse.

With more than 50 nations now operating their own space programs, initiatives to limit the release of space debris have not been much easier. Even if we have the political will to [salvage junk]which we do not think we can do, we can not overthrow the big pieces because we do not own them. "Joan Johnson-Freese, Professor a naval war college, the Washington Post said in 2014.


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