EVENTS such as the uncontrolled re-entry of a Chinese rocket that crashed back to Earth is an illustration of the need to tackle “space junk” before a disaster happens, according to the head of a Scots rocket company.
The 18-tonne, Chinese Long March 5b missile plunged into the Indian Ocean west of the Maldives last weekend, and the CEO of Edinburgh-based Skyrora, Volodymyr Levykin, said it underlined the value of their work in developing a “space tug” which can play a crucial role in clearing redundant satellites and other junk.
Levykin said the world had to hold its breath to see where the debris form the Chinese spacecraft would eventually hit Earth.
“Events like this shouldn’t be happening,” he said. “There are around 34,000 objects above 10cm in size in Earth’s orbit that would be considered space junk – 3000 of which are redundant satellites.
“Moving at around 10km per second, these objects could seriously damage operational satellites or even the International Space Station.
“It’s vital that something is done to address the situation before disaster strikes – and we’re faced with the loss of crucial services, or worse still, loss of life.”
Levykin said the situation had heightened the demand for a vehicle that can make multiple stops and functions in space without the need for numerous launches.
He said: “Orbital Transfer Vehicles, such as Skyrora’s space tug, are on hand to help safely de-orbit space debris or transport it to a disposal orbit.
“With the capability of re-firing its engine multiple times and so manoeuvring once in orbit, a tug can complete several missions after deploying an initial payload.
“By integrating them as part of the rocket’s third stage, we can effectively deploy a vehicle as part of every launch, creating an orbital fleet of ‘space tugs’ ready to be called upon when required.”
Skyrora has already successfully completed tests on a space tug model – at its engine development facility in Fife. This involved a full mission duration static fire test (450-second burn over three firings) of the upper, or third stage of their orbital-class vehicle, Skyrora XL.
It is a key part of the company’s mission to place space sustainability as a crucial element in its planning and company vision. Levykin added: “Every launch, regardless of who is behind it or where it’s launching from, should now include some sort of space tug to make sure these uncontrolled re-entries are a thing of the past.”
“It’s not only about helping the planet or clearing up the mess orbiting it but about protecting the crucial infrastructure that’s taken decades and trillions of dollars to build, which could effectively be wiped out in an instant,” he added.
This Article firstly Publish on www.thenational.scot