Why Space Is Getting So Crowded
Date: 2019-12-05 11:00:00
The first human-made object to orbit the Earth was Sputnik 1, which blasted off on October 4th, 1957. In the decades since, we’ve launched thousands of additional satellites. The modern world would surely grind to a halt without them. But now, there are so many up there that we might literally be running out of space.
It turns out there are only so many places you can put a satellite and have it stay where you want it to be. If a satellite is too low, it will simply fall from the sky, too high, and it will gradually drift into deep space. With so many in orbit, keeping them all from slamming into each other is a task that gets more difficult every passing year!
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Preview photo credit:
A Beehive of Satellites: By European Space Agency,
Animation is created by Bright Side.
– Global Positioning System (or GPS) satellites and others that need to remain over a specific part of the Earth’s surface have to be launched at very specific altitudes.
– The further from a stable orbit the satellite is, the more effort has to be put into keeping it there.
– On February 10th, an abandoned Russian satellite called Kosmos 2251 plowed into the side of an American satellite as they passed over northern Siberia. The impact shredded both spacecrafts and sent a cloud of debris hurtling through space at incredible speed.
– Broken or abandoned satellites like Kosmos 2251 are a huge threat to the ones that are still functioning.
– A piece of space garbage just four inches across is enough to rip most satellites apart.
– As of May 2019, there were around 23,000 objects of that size or larger.
– The absolute worst-case scenario is what scientists call the Kessler Effect. Thought of in 1978 by NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler, the Kessler effect is basically the domino effect in space.
– Works of fiction like to present the Kessler Effect in almost apocalyptic terms.
– Right now, there are a few objects making scientists nervous. One notable example is the European Space Agency’s enormous and abandoned Envisat satellite.
– The threat of satellite collisions is very real and will only get worse as we launch more and more objects into orbit.
– Modern satellites usually won’t get the green light until there’s a plan for how to get rid of them.
– Sometimes this requires pushing it out so far into space that the odds of a crash drop to basically nothing.
– Another option is to lower the satellite so that it gets pulled in by the Earth’s gravity.
– Another suggested solution would be to place unwanted satellites so that they will be yanked out of orbit by the Sun or Moon.
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