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#SpaceIsNature : The importance of managing Space Debris

Preserving the Natural Resources of Space by Managing Space Debris

Satellites are quite likely one of biggest inventions in modern history. We benefit from them every day. TV broadcasting, GPS navigation, remotely geographical Internet services, weather forecast and even space exploration! All these incredible technologies would definitely not be possible without the invention of satellites. So yes, satellites’ usage is present in daily life, and the physics principles describing the space forces that make this technology possible are just amazing.

As any other invention, there is a moment in its development flow where we realize that it can be improved, so technicians put all their energies on upgrading it. We understand that it is essential, so more and more services rely on this fabulous technology. However, there is also a fact on this that we should realize about.

Considering the actual status of global technological maturity in what concerns satellite technology, this reasoning should happen at the very first outset rather than when the race has already started.

This fact, undeniable by the way, is that whichever technology built for the common good, considered essential and with sufficient interest placed on so to be continuously improved, must have a sustainable and unharmful relation with us.

So yes, sustainable, because technology must last, and also unharmful, because it must not suppose a threat of any kind, to any invention of any country. In today’s environment both technology and we live together.



So, are satellites sustainable and unharmful?

Satellites do are sustainable; they are built to last for several years and teams of experts are dedicated to maintaining them. They do not provoke any damage to us, but if we do not properly take care of them then they might start misbehaving. They are technically sustainable. Which is not equivalent to a sustainable envirnoment, in this case, the Space.

But what about being unharmful, are they? Differently to AI-oriented fears, we do not see movies where satellites are indeed controlling our lives. However, we do hear about dozens, sometimes hundreds of satellites launches, either single missions or just batches being part of much bigger constellations. Although this does not seem something harmful, we are putting more and more satellites into space, and in fact thousands of satellites have been launched in the past decades.

So where is the problem?

Congestion. The space is getting more congested, and we have erroneously appropriated the Space as if it belonged to us. As we did with oceans, forests, beaches and all kind of nature and natural resources on Earth.

Analogous to throwing louds of rubbish to the sea just because there is plenty of space. This is not a comparison between satellites and rubbish, but…

why a comparison like this is still adequate?

Because if we do not consider the fact that continue putting satellites in orbit without first thinking in the consequences is a harmful behavior from our side, congesting the orbital “highway” more and more, then the damage will not only affect the satellites increasing their likelihood to crash with each other, as has happened several times in the past and is indeed a fact which is considered when launching a satellite, but also will affect us, harming ourselves, polluting our orbit with more space debris, a catastrophe analogous to the ocean pollution, difficult to countermeasure. So there will not be useful satellites anymore after a crash, it will be just rubbish orbiting the Earth, at tremendous speeds thounsands of km-per-hour, that can eventually cause damages to other satellites in a chain, and therefore producing more space debris.

Let’s not resemble Pixar’s movie Wall-E opening scene, where the Earth surroundings were covered by space debris. Of course we are not in this situation yet, but in my opinion, citing this is not an exageration, not when all space agencies are promoting programmes for “cleaning” space debris.

Gif animation of Wall-E opening scene.
Example of DEBRIS object (see tag in the picture) from stuffin.space, a website which tracks in real time objecs in Earth orbit.

On the other hand, it is important to highlight that in the past years several organizations and professionals from both public and private sectors have arisen and gained prominence because of their initiatives for cleaning space. Yes, cleaning is the correct word at this point.

Space is nature, and all its elements are resources to us. Resources that make space technologies possible and from which we all benefit every day. A lot is being done to protect and preserve our natural resources on Earth, and much more is still needed to be done, that’s clear, just let’s not forget that Space is also part of nature, because Earth is part of the Universe’s Nature.

This article was written from my personal perspective after reading information available online from NASA, ESA and articles from renamed engineers and scientits, all within the common study area of Space Debris Management.

Thank you for reading!


REFERENCES

ESA. Space Debris Catch It If We Can. https://blogs.esa.int/cleanspace/2017/02/09/space-debris-catch-it-if-we-can/
Space.com. The big threats to satellites, and what to do about them. https://www.space.com/satellite-threats-solutions-los-alamos-op-ed.html
The Verge. As satellite constellations grow larger, NASA is worried about orbital debris https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2018/9/28/17906158/nasa-spacex-oneweb-satellite-large-constellations-orbital-debris
spacewatch.global. #SpaceWatchGL opinion: Space Debris – 2020 Vision? Are we really looking after space? https://spacewatch.global/2020/12/spacewatchgl-opinion-space-debris-2020-vision-are-we-really-looking-after-space/
BoingBoing.net. The next trash problem is in low-earth orbit. https://boingboing.net/2020/12/05/the-next-trash-problem-is-in-low-earth-orbit.html