There’s Now a Gas Station… In Space!

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), over 4,000 operational satellites are currently in orbit around Earth. According to some estimates, this number is expected to reach as high as 100,000 by the end of this decade, including telecommunication, internet, research, navigation, and Earth Observation satellites. As part of the “commercialization” of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) anticipated in this century, the presence of so many satellites will create new opportunities (as well as hazards).

The presence of these satellites will require a great deal of mitigation (to prevent collisions), servicing, and maintenance. For example, the San Francisco-based startup Orbit Fab is working to create all the necessary technology for orbital refueling services for satellites. To help realize this goal, industry giant Lockheed Martin recently announced that they are investing in Orbit Fab’s “Gas Stations in Space™” refueling technology.

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Doomed Satellite was Equipped With a Drag Sail to Deorbit it After its Mission was Complete

Drag sails can be used to de-orbit old satellites. Image Credit: Purdue University/David Spencer

A team at Purdue University developed a drag sail to attach to satellites to help them de-orbit to combat space debris. Unfortunately, the rocket carrying the test device, launched by Firefly Aerospace, exploded shortly after launch.

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Satellites can Track Microplastics From Space

Sometimes simple and elegant solutions are all that is needed to solve a problem.  One problem that was searching for a solution was how to track microplastics.  These small particles of plastics are what results after the sun and friction (such as ocean waves) break down larger plastic objects.  They have become a huge problem in the ocean, wreaking havoc on ecosystems and their constituent organisms.  Now, a team from the University of Michigan have used data originally collected to monitor hurricanes to try to track microplastics, potentially helping to reign in a problem that threatens to engulf the world’s oceans.

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A Solution to Space Junk: Satellites Made of Mushrooms?

Credit: Christian Scheckhuber/Wikipeia Commons (left); UC3M (right)

According to the latest numbers from the ESA’s Space Debris Office (SDO), there are roughly 6,900 artificial satellites in orbit. The situation is going to become exponentially crowded in the coming years, thanks to the many telecommunications, internet, and small satellites that are expected to be launched. This creates all kinds of worries for collision risks and space debris, not to mention environmental concerns.

For this reason, engineers, designers, and satellite manufacturers are looking for ways to redesign their satellites. Enter Max Justice, a cybersecurity expert, former Marine, and “Cyber Farmer” who spent many years working in the space industry. Currently, he is working towards a new type of satellite that is made out of mycelium fibers. This tough, heat-resistant, and environmentally friendly material could trigger a revolution in the booming satellite industry.

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Starlink and OneWeb Have Their First Avoidance Maneuver With Each Other’s Constellations

Two companies, OneWeb and SpaceX, are racing to put fleets of thousands of communication satellites into orbit. In March they had their first near-miss. Avoidance maneuvers were successful, but how many more close calls will they face in the future?

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Satellites Have Brightened the Skies by About 10% Across the Entire Planet

An image of the NGC 5353/4 galaxy group made with a telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, USA on the night of Saturday 25 May 2019. The diagonal lines running across the image are trails of reflected light left by more than 25 of the 60 recently launched Starlink satellites as they passed through the telescope’s field of view. Although this image serves as an illustration of the impact of reflections from satellite constellations, please note that the density of these satellites is significantly higher in the days after launch (as seen here) and also that the satellites will diminish in brightness as they reach their final orbital altitude.

New research has found that as the number of satellites in Earth orbit continues to increase, their accumulated light pollution will brighten the night sky – making it much harder to do fundamental astronomy.

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Tracking Satellites Through GEOSat Eclipse Season

Geosat flare

You can spot ‘GEOSat’ satellites in far-flung orbits… if you know exactly where and when to look.

Watch the sky long enough, and you’re bound to see one.

Seasoned observers are very familiar with seeing satellites in low Earth orbit, as these modern artificial sky apparitions lit by sunlight grace the dawn or dusk sky. Occasionally, you might even see a flare from a passing satellite, as a reflective solar panel catches the last rays of sunlight passing overhead just right…

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Earth’s Atmosphere Can Generate a “Space Hurricane”

Illustration of a space hurricane, created using the observational data. Credit: Qing-He Zhang / Shandong University

There are hurricanes in space.

Researchers looking through archival data found evidence of a previously unobserved phenomenon — a giant swirling mass of plasma above Earth’s northern polar region. The “space hurricane,” as the science team calls it, churned for hours, raining down electrons instead of water.

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A new Method to Capture High-Resolution Images of Space Debris

“You can’t hit what you can’t see” is a common phrase in sports and was originally derived to describe baseball pitcher Walter Johnson’s fastball.  But the same goes for things with a more serious spin, such as some of the millions of pieces of debris floating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  Now, a team of researchers have come up with a new imaging system that will allow agencies and governments to closely track some of the debris that is cluttering LEO and potentially endangering humanity’s future expansion to the stars.

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How Long Will Space Junk Take to Burn Up? Here’s a Handy Chart

An artist's illustration of space junk. The problem isn't this bad yet, but it's getting worse year by year. Image: Tohoku University
An artist's illustration of space junk. The problem isn't this bad yet, but it's getting worse year by year. Image: Tohoku University

If the Roman Empire had been able to launch a satellite in a relatively high Low Earth Orbit – say about 1,200 km (750 miles) in altitude – only now would that satellite be close to falling back to Earth. And if the dinosaurs had launched a satellite into the furthest geostationary orbit – 36,000 km (23,000 miles) or higher — it might still be up there today.

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