Written by Ekoja Okewu
Continuous collision of objects in space poses a great challenge to traffic management, safety and sustainability. Employing the use of multipurpose satellites and robots , space taxation, Active Removal/In-orbit Servicing , a unified space exploration schedule and space sustainability Rating can help free the space of debris while improving safety and ensuring sustainability.
Fig 1. Image of satellites orbiting the earth2
“Space is for everybody. It’s not just for a few people in science or maths, or for a select group of astronauts. That’s our new frontier out there, and it’s everybody’s business to know about space”- Christa Mcauliffe
Declining costs, satellite and launcher size evolutions and the proliferation of related
technology has led to a surge in satellite launches, many of which are conducted by
new space enterprises and nations. With thousands of payloads expected to be
launched by the commercial sector alone, adding to the over 2000 already active
satellites in orbit, space debris will become a critical challenge for the global
community , endangering access to space and the benefits this access brings.4
Space traffic management is defined by the international Academy of Astronautics as
the set of technical and regulatory provisions for promoting safe access into outer
space and return from outer space to earth free from physical or radio-frequency
interference1 . Space sustainability on the other hand is concerned with ensuring how
all humanity can continue to use outer space for peaceful purposes and socioeconomic
benefit now and in the long term.
Fig 2. Artist’s illustration of space debris around the earth3
Scientific models estimates that there are around 900,000 objects larger than a
marble in orbit around the earth, and more than 128, million objects larger than 1mm.
The vast majority of these objects are no longer operational but can be very dangerous; Objects orbit earth so quickly that something measuring just 1 cm wide can expend the energy of an exploding hand grenade upon impact with a satellite.6 This indeed is scary hence, the need for space traffic management measures.
As the challenge of orbital debris continues to grow, current and future missions face an increasing risk of possible collisions. Adopting The Space Sustainability Rating (SSR) in space traffic management can help provide a new, innovative way of addressing the orbital challenge. This can be achieved through increasing the transparency of organizations debris mitigation efforts.4
If all space exploration were to be stopped today, the amount of debris would continue to rise because of collisions, which leads to more collisions. Clean space is working on how to remove defunct satellites from the orbit to decongest the outer space via its Active Removal /In-Orbit Servicing Project, which aims to establish a new market for in-orbit servicing of spacecraft’s in space as well as debris removal.5
Fig 3. A satellite with a harpoon, net and drag sail to capture space debris6
Furthermore, since majority of the debris in the outer space comes from satellites, space engineers and manufacturers should be encouraged to produce extra satellites with robotic arms within a mega-constellation that can help in removing a lot of debris while in operation. Chaser satellites with a net to capture failed spacecraft and dispose satellites that have outspent their life span should be used globally5.
Explorations on how to design recyclable robots should not be neglected if we aim to achieve space safety and sustainability. Biodegradable materials should form the bulk of components use for the manufacturing of space equipment. Provisions should also be made for on space servicing and repair to extend the lifespan of satellites and spaceships.
Space agencies should be employ strict taxation policies in order to discourage unnecessary space explorations. Under this policy, countries or organizations that wish to embark on space explorations can work together in building smaller space ships that can serve multiple purposes. For example, Africa with about 54 countries can embark on a unified project capable of serving the need of everyone. Instead of having 54 satellites, a single satellite could service the entire continent. Debris in space can also be identified and labelled while the nation/organization responsible for it pays pollution levies until it is expelled from space. This will push for better space sanitization, reduce objects in space and enhance free traffic flow.
In the past, research on space traffic management is left in the hand of professionals alone. Diversifying space research to accommodate students studying in space institutions and members of the public can help in proffering a wide range of updated space traffic management measures from which choice can be made to
bridge the widening gap in research. Children and youths are future drivers of the space world but they are not carried along globally. Building of space laboratories for kids can help spark a revival in space traffic management and birth innovative findings that could be harvested for adoption in the space world.
As one takes a survey through history, it is evident that there is no unified time schedule for nations and organizations to embark on space explorations. This makes the whole process clumsy and haphazard. Drawing out an international space exploration timeline will help in the monitoring and control of traffic in space.
Finally, the performance of space manufacturing firms should be made public on a regular basis. This will increase competition amongst manufacturers, lead to the production of more environmentally friendly space equipment and attract the attention of customers to producers upholding the course of space sustainability.
Though the congestion of space poses great problems to current and future explorations, safety and sustainability of the outer space and the employment of the space management measures discussed in this essay should not be ignored, if we desire continuous space explorations.
3. https://www.newsweek.com/russian_satellite_chinese_rocket_space_collision -1538954
5. https://www.esa.int/enabling_support/preparing_for_the_future/discovery_and_preparation/clean_and _eco_friendly_space
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