It seems as if it was not enough for us humans to fill the earth with waste, so we decided to do the same thing to outer space. Since the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, the region outside the earth’s atmosphere has become full of debris.
This is because of the accumulation of useless satellites and broken parts which are much larger in number than the satellites that are actually functional. In a recent annual report published by the European Space Agency (ESA), it has been said that despite efforts to resolve this problem, it has been very difficult to cope up with the rate of increasing debris in space.
It is certain that all the nations in the space race have contributed to it. Also behind it are those nations who make use of satellites. The problem occurs in the form of a loop. As more and more debris pile up, chances of them crashing with a functioning satellite or a rocket increases. Because of the same, new debris is generated. This process goes on and on.
A recent example of a similar incident was when in 2019, the International Space Station (ISS) had to perform several maneuvers to avoid a crash with floating debris. There was also an instance where two large dead satellites almost crashed into each other. However, there is an even bigger problem.
Mr. Holger Krag, Head, space security program, ESA, said, “The biggest contribution to the current problem of space debris is orbit explosions caused by residual energy – fuel and batteries – onboard spacecraft and rockets. Although steps have been taken to prevent this for years, we are not seeing a decrease in the number of such events. End-of-mission disposal trends are improving, but only slowly.”
In order to prevent this in the first place, space agencies are trying to build more durable spacecrafts and satellites which can withstand the harsh environments of space without getting fragmented.
Despite this, for the past two decades, more than 12 fragmentation events have been occurring every year. Each fragmentation can add several thousand new pieces of debris to the orbit.
As per ESA’s model, there are more than 130 million space debris smaller than a millimetre in size. These are extremely small pieces have the potential to deactivate an operational satellite at orbital speed.
The only positive prospect is the fact that more and more space agencies are trying to follow the international space, thus, slowing the pace of debris accumulation in proportion to the number of space missions.
ESA said in the report, “Space debris is a global problem for the near-earth environment, to which all space travel nations have contributed and for which only a globally supported solution can be the answer.”