October 4th, 2022, will be an auspicious day as humanity celebrates the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the Space Age. It all began in 1957 with the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik-1, the first artificial satellite ever sent to orbit. Since that time, about 8,900 satellites have been launched from more than 40 countries worldwide. This has led to growing concerns about space debris and the hazard it represents to future constellations, spacecraft, and even habitats in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
This has led to many proposed solutions for cleaning up “space junk,” as well as satellite designs that would allow them to deorbit and burn up. Alas, there are still questions about whether a planet surrounded by mega-constellations is sustainable over the long term. A recent study by James A. Blake, a research fellow with the University of Warwick, examined the evolution of the debris environment in LEO and assessed if future space operations can be conducted sustainably.
A Chinese satellite pulled a defunct navigation satellite out of the way of other satellites on January 22nd. The satellite, called SJ-21, appeared to operate as a space tug when it grappled onto the navigation satellite from the Chinese CompassG2 network. The operation details didn’t come from Chinese authorities but a report by ExoAnalytic Solutions, a commercial space monitoring company.
Chinese authorities are tight-lipped about the operation, but what can observations tell us about Chinese capabilities?
A new technique may prove to be a powerful tool in the battle to mitigate space debris.
As the Space Age continues into its seventh decade, space debris is now growing at an exponential rate. Most of this debris is in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and ranges from bus-sized discarded rocket boosters and defunct satellites, to tiny millimeter-sized fragments.