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Space Collisions: The Threat and Remedies



  Feb 20, 2024

Space Collisions: The Threat and Remedies



What causes space collisions?

Space collisions occur when defunct satellites, spent rocket stages, or fragments from previous collisions (collectively known as space debris) collide with operational satellites or spacecraft. These events are often caused by the high density of objects in popular orbits and the lack of effective debris management and collision avoidance systems.

How significant is the threat of space collisions?

The threat is significant and growing, with the potential to damage or destroy billion-dollar satellites, endanger human life on spacecraft or the International Space Station (ISS), and disrupt critical services like GPS, telecommunications, and weather forecasting.

What is the Kessler Syndrome?

The Kessler Syndrome is a theoretical scenario where the density of objects in low Earth orbit is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade of further collisions, significantly increasing the amount of space debris and making certain orbits unusable for decades or even centuries.v

Can space collisions be predicted?

Yes, to some extent. Space agencies and organizations use radar and optical instruments to track objects in space and predict potential collisions. However, the prediction and avoidance of collisions involving smaller, uncataloged debris remain challenging.

FAQs on Remedies for Space Pollution and Collision Avoidance

What is being done to prevent space collisions?

Efforts include enhancing space situational awareness through better tracking and monitoring of space objects, sharing collision prediction data among space agencies, and executing Collision Avoidance Maneuvers (CAMs) when necessary. Agencies are also working on guidelines for satellite operators to design missions that minimize debris generation.

What are Collision Avoidance Maneuvers (CAMs)?

CAMs are adjustments made to a satellite’s orbit to avoid potential collisions with tracked objects. These maneuvers require precise calculations and timing to ensure the satellite is moved out of the path of an approaching debris object or another satellite.

What is active debris removal?

Active debris removal involves the development of technologies and missions to remove space debris from orbit. Concepts include using nets, harpoons, robotic arms, or lasers to capture or redirect debris towards Earth’s atmosphere, where it would burn up upon re-entry.

How is India contributing to mitigating space pollution?

India, through ISRO, has initiated the “Swachh Antriksh Abhiyan” (Clean Space Campaign), which includes lowering the orbits of spent rocket stages to hasten their re-entry and disintegration. ISRO also safely deorbited the defunct Meghatropiques satellite and continues to monitor space debris to protect its operational satellites.

What international cooperation exists to tackle space pollution?

International cooperation is crucial for addressing space pollution. Organizations like the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) work on developing guidelines for debris mitigation. Space agencies and operators also share data on space objects and potential collision predictions to enhance global space situational awareness.

What future technologies are being explored for debris removal?

Future technologies for debris removal include deploying satellites equipped with nets or harpoons to capture debris, using lasers to change the trajectory of debris, and developing space-based platforms to magnetically attract and collect smaller debris pieces.


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