The increasing number of satellites orbiting Earth raises the chance of future space collisions.

 

As various technology and space industries continue to grow, so does their demand for satellites and their various uses. More and more such spacecraft are being launched into orbit around the Earth. They are used either for communications, weather monitoring, or global mapping and photography, for example.

Now, some scientists fear that the clutter they leave behind may become too much. This could create a danger the satellites, the industries that rely on their functions, and the people on the ground in their potential path.

Space is Running out of Space, And Future Space Collisions Are Becoming Quite Possible

With the ease of launching smaller satellites into space and the growing need for their services, researchers part of the University of Southampton, UK have growing concerns for future space collisions. CubeSats and other commercial satellites are harder to track.

Often, they are launched by private companies who do not communicate directly with government agencies. This can result in catastrophic accidents like the one that happened recently when a 1 cm fragment cut a 40 cm hole in the solar panel of the European Space Agency’s main satellite for Earth observation, Sentinel-1A. This collision resulted in seven more fragments now being tracked in their path around the planet.

Often, they are launched by private companies who do not communicate directly with government agencies. This can result in catastrophic accidents like the one that happened recently. Then, a 1 cm fragment cut a 40 cm hole in the solar panel of the European Space Agency’s main satellite for Earth observation, Sentinel-1A. This collision resulted in seven more fragments now being tracked in their path around the planet.

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With anywhere from 100 to 150 of these “CubeSats” being deployed each year, the danger of future space collisions is only increasing. More satellites in orbit mean more chances for future space collisions.

” […] also because of their small size they are more vulnerable to small debris – debris that is smaller than can be tracked by any network.” This is according to the University of Southampton researcher, Hugh Lewis.

Another complication is the development of satellite constellations. These are groups of satellites designed to work together in coordination.

Luckily, many of the larger corporations are working with governments to better track and manage these low-earth objects. The greater fear is from the so-called “democratization of space”, where many small companies and private individuals could start launching their own devices. This could create a management nightmare. To avoid this, new resources may need to be allocated to track all objects headed for space.

Image Source: JPL/NASA

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