Blizzard of space debris threat to future economics of space flight

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London, October 28 (ANI): An academician has predicted that a burgeoning blizzard of space debris is going to have a major impact on the future economics of space flight.

According to a report in the New Scientist, the prediction was made by Hugh Lewis of the University of Southampton, UK, at the European Air and Space Conference in Manchester.

His projections indicate that the number of close encounters between objects in orbit will rise 50 per cent in the next decade, and quadruple by 2059.

Countermeasures will add greatly to the cost of future missions.

Ever since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, satellite operators have used Earth orbit as a junkyard, dumping spent rocket stages and dead spacecraft there.

As the danger of collisions with active spacecraft began to expose the cost of this folly, space agencies have tried not to add to the junk pile, but events have conspired against them.

In 2007, the Chinese army used a missile to destroy a defunct weather satellite, and earlier this year an Iridium communications satellite collided with a derelict Russian vehicle.

Both events added many thousands of debris shards to near-Earth space.

The number of pieces of space debris has risen by 40 per cent in the past four years alone. The US air force Space Command now tracks 19,000 orbiting objects that are 10 centimetres or more across - including around 800 working satellites - and estimates that there are 500,000 smaller fragments in orbit.

As to what effect this growing debris field would have on managing future satellite operations, Lewis used data from an industry database called Socrates to correlate the change over time in the quantity of debris with the number of occasions on which objects come within 5 kilometres of each other.

Then, using the predicted growth in the debris population over the next 50 years, he estimated the number of close approaches that are set to occur.

Compared with the 13,000 close approaches per week now, his projection showed that there would be 20,000 a week in 2019 and upwards of 50,000 a week in 2059.

From this, he predicts that satellite operators will have to make five times as many collision avoidance manoeuvres in 2059 as they will in 2019.

"There's going to be a big impact," said Lewis. "You're going to need more tracking to remove uncertainty about close approaches and undertake more manoeuvres," he added. (ANI)

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