Need to Map an Iceberg in a Hundredth of a Second? Ask a Computer

Image of an iceberg on the Arctic Ocean
An Iceberg in the Arctic Ocean

Satellites really are quite a wonder.  They can help forecast the weather, track climate change and help you navigate around the world. There are even satellites that can not only track icebergs but can map the Antarctic in the merest blink of an eye. In fact, faster than that since a typical blink takes about 0.2 seconds but the Sentinel-1 satellites can map icebergs in just 0.01 seconds, that’s 20 times for every blink of an eye!

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ESA Plans to Eliminate New Space Debris by 2030

This image from the ESA's MASTER (Meteoroid and Space Debris Terrestrial Environment Reference) risk-assessment tool shows the dangerous debris orbiting Earth. Image Credit: IRAS/TU Braunschweig

What can we do about space junk? We know how much debris is in orbit, and we know the problem is getting worse. It’s our fault.

Our Earth now has a halo of orbital debris, and the ESA has a plan to stop contributing to the problem.

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A Russian Satellite Has Shifted Within 60 km of Another Spacecraft

Geostationary orbits are where telecommunication satellites and other monitoring satellites operate. This image shows one of the NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites. Image Credit: NOAA.

When it comes to saber-rattling, few countries employ it as much as Russia does. During their ongoing invasion and occupation of Ukraine, the country’s leadership has repeatedly threatened to use atomic weapons. But the threats don’t stop there.

A private company called Slingshot Aerospace says Russia has maneuvered one of their Luch satellites uncomfortably close to Western spacecraft in GEO (geostationary orbit.)

And it’s not the first time.

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A Flock of CubeSats Will Use Wings to Maneuver at the Edge of Space

CubeSats are taking on more and more responsibility for remote monitoring of the Earth. As they become more ubiquitous, they will also gain more varied propulsion systems. Or, in the case of a new set of monitoring CubeSats from INTA, Spain’s Institue of Aerospace Technology, no propulsion system at all.

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One of the Brightest Stars in the Sky is Actually a Satellite

The bright streaks drawing an arc across the night sky are caused by the satellite BlueWalker 3. The prototype satellite is brighter than most stars. Image Credit: Ilse Plauchu-Frayn

Back in the 70s, kids used to look up at the summer sky and try to be the first one to shout, “Satellite!” That seems like a relic from the past now, alongside Polaroid cameras and astronauts on the Moon. These days, it’s rare to spend any amount of time looking at the sky without seeing a satellite, or several of them.

A new satellite is emphasizing that fact. It’s a prototype communications satellite with a roughly 700-square-foot antenna, and it’s brighter than most stars.

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The Irony. ClearSpace-1 Couldn't Clean up Space Debris Because its Target Already Got hit by Space Debris, Creating Even More Space Debris.

Illustration of ClearSpace-1 capturing a piece of space debris. Credit: ClearSpace

We have a problem.

Ever since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, we have been launching debris into space. Everything from space stations and large communication satellites to small CubeSats. With each launch, we also add things such as rocket parts and paint chips to the orbital pile. Right now there are more than a million objects orbiting Earth wider than a centimeter, and at least 130 million millimeter-sized objects. Most of it isn’t going to deorbit any time soon.

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A Satellite is Now Continuously Watching Lightning Strikes in Europe

Satellites often offer new perspectives when they launch. Sometimes because of the location they are placed in – sometimes because of their instrumentation. A new satellite by a consortium of European companies and agencies now provides a new perspective on one of the most powerful and fleeting natural phenomena – lightning.

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If There Were a War in Space, Debris Would Destroy all Remaining Satellites in About 40 Years

The destruction of a single satellite could be catastrophic for our orbital endeavours. Image Credit: ESA

On one particular day in 2021, astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS must have felt a pin-prick of fear and uncertainty. On November 15th of that year, Russia fired an anti-satellite missile at one of its own defunct military satellites, Tselina-D. The target weighed about 1,750 kg, and when the missile struck its target, the satellite exploded into a cloud of hazardous debris.

NASA woke the crew on the International Space Station in the middle of the night and told them to take precautions and prepare for a possible impact. The Chinese space station Tiangong was also in danger, and multiple countries and space agencies condemned Russia’s foolhardy behaviour.

But there was no way to contain the debris.

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A New Mission Will Grab Dead Satellites and Push Them Into the Atmosphere to Burn Up

Plenty of news stories have focused on the danger posed by Kessler syndrome. In this condition, space is made inaccessible by a cloud of debris surrounding our planet that would destroy any further attempts to get into orbit. Therefore, plenty of companies have sprung up that problem to take care of the problem, from blasting derelict satellites with lasers to helping to refuel them; lots of business models have been created to capture this opportunity. One of the farthest along is Astroscale. This British start-up is tackling the problem with one of the more conventional techniques – linking up with an existing satellite to deorbit it. And recently, they released a promotional video for their new project – the ELSA-M.

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Astronomers Have Figured Out Clever Tricks to Reduce the Impact of Satellite Trails

A long-exposure image of the Orion Nebula with a total exposure time of 208 minutes showing satellite trails in mid-December 2019. Credit: A. H. Abolfath
A long-exposure image of the Orion Nebula with a total exposure time of 208 minutes showing satellite trails in mid-December 2019. Credit: A. H. Abolfath

A clear sky is a prerequisite for most astronomers imaging the cosmos. However, with the proliferation of satellite trails, astronomers see a lot more streaks in their images. That’s particularly true for people using professional ground-based and orbiting telescopes. When Hubble Space Telescope opened its eye on the sky, there were less than 500 satellites orbiting our planet. Now, there are nearly 8,000 of them, leaving their mark across the sky.

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