Humanity has disrupted orbit. The ‘clean shot’ of the ISS arm is a warning exclamation point
The orbit becomes a dangerous place.
On Earth, we collect, sort, recycle, and incinerate trash… but we don’t clean up trash one by one in space. Thus, the Earth’s orbit turns into a large garbage dump.
This fact was reminded of a piece of space debris that damaged the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the ISS. The crew noticed damage in May during a routine check of an automated system developed by the Canadian Space Agency to help deal with items outside the station.
Part of the Canadarm2 “padded” robotic arm at the ISS. | Source:
As can be seen from the photo, a “clear shot” appeared on the shoulder. Fortunately, the device is still able to work without restrictions.
Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that 27,000 objects larger than a tennis ball (including satellites) and up to 130 million objects smaller than a centimeter in orbit.
You must track these objects and adjust the course of the station or spaceship. Orbital speeds in kilometers per second (relative to the surface of the planet) mean that a centimeter piece of metal can cause serious damage to a ship in orbit.
The International Space Station itself has avoided trash three times. At the same time, there are fears that a major collision could create a cascading effect in the future, closing our doors to outer space.
A single large collision can create large amounts of debris that will continue to spread into orbit. And when they collide with other satellites, new debris will form, which will collide with other satellites …
This is called Kessler syndrome and could one day cause a rocket to not orbit or fly, but only to be in significant danger. This phenomenon was described in the movie Gravity, and space engineers have feared such a scenario for four decades.
The cleaners are on their way
“In order to continue to use scientific knowledge, technology and data from space, it is essential not to create space debris. It is essential for the further use of space,” said Tim Fleurer, an expert at the European Space Agency.
And what if Kessler syndrome has occurred before? It would be a tough situation, but not the end of the space program forever.
In low orbit, the debris will burn up over time. We can avoid them on the higher paths. However, compact missiles and light satellites are sensitive to collisions with small projectiles. Thus, Kessler syndrome could erase decades of space exploration.
Although the ISS collision with an unknown fragment turned out well this time, it was a warning for the future. But it may have started to flash into a cleaner orbit.
Last year, the European Space Agency announced a contract to remove selected debris fragments of larger dimensions. The spacewoman she hired is due to depart in 2025. A cleaning satellite is scheduled to be leased from Japan’s Astroscale two years earlier.