Just as millions of tons of plastic pollute our planet’s waterways and oceans each year, man-made space objects totaling thousands of metric tons are polluting the celestial space surrounding our planet, and the problem is growing.
A report by Salon cited the European Space Agency (ESA), who said the total mass of all “man-made space objects in Earth’s orbit is more than 9,200 metric tons.” To break that down by size, ESA indicated statistical models estimate there are “34,000 objects greater than 10 centimeters; 900,000 objects greater than 1 centimeter and up to 10 centimeters, and 128 million objects greater than 1 millimeter to 1 centimeter.”
Salon noted that as more satellites launch into our orbit, “the massive amount of space junk “poses a serious issue for potential collisions or inhibiting the function of these satellites.”
Introducing, the “space janitor.”
On Monday, a spacecraft named ELSA-d (which stands for End-of-Life Services by Astroscale) launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, its mission – “to test a way to clean up space debris,” Salon reported.
Here’s how it works.
Salon explained that ELSA-d will “attach itself to future dead satellites and other space junk and then proceed to push them toward Earth,” where upon entering Earth’s atmosphere, they can burn up.
According to the mission’s web page, ELSA-d consists of two space crafts: a servicer satellite and a client satellite that will act as a space janitor for man-made orbital debris. However, it “is not designed to capture dead satellites already in orbit, but rather future ones that would be launched with compatible docking plates.” Mondays mission is part of a test “to see if the two satellites are up for the job.”
It’s a “very tedious catch-and-release dance.”
“The servicer satellite will use its magnetic docking mechanism to target and rendezvous with the client satellite,” the web page explains. A private Japanese company called Astroscale is behind the mission.
Auburn said: “It’s enormously complex because you have to exactly match the motion of the spacecraft you’re docking with.” He added, “When a spacecraft docks with the International Space Station, that’s a very controlled maneuver. But if you’re trying to dock with a failed satellite, it could be tumbling and you have to very slowly come together almost like you’re doing a dance.”
Salon noted however, that if these satellites “can stick the dance,” ELSA-d could be a “viable solution to a growing problem in space.”
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