As the commercialization and industrialization of space becomes more of an inevitability with every successful launch by companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic (SPCE), space debris, or space junk, is becoming a growing concern of both corporate and government aerospace entities alike.
The European Space Agency (ESA) estimated that there are 29,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters, 670,000 objects larger than one centimeter, and more than 170 million objects larger than one millimeter currently in Earth’s orbit. Space junk consists of both manmade objects such as material left over from space missions and natural objects like meteoroids. Problems can arise as space junk can be difficult or even impossible to track depending on size, and collision with unmanned or manned spacecraft can spell doom for missions or those onboard.
“There is traffic management for cars, ships, and airplanes, but there’s no space traffic management,” Astroscale CEO and founder Nobu Okada told Yahoo Finance Live. “[It is such that] now the density of space debris has reached the critical level where the chain reaction of collisions can happen in the near future. So we’ve been talking with many governments [to work on a solution].”
Astroscale, founded in 2013, is a private orbital debris removal company headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, and describes itself as “the first private company with a vision to secure the safe and sustainable development of space for the benefit of future generations.” The company signed a $3.4 million agreement in May to develop space debris removal technology with OneWeb. Okada joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the implications of the growing concern of space debris and how Astroscale is working to solve the problem.
According to Okada, space debris removal technology revolves around the use of satellites, which capture debris in orbit, stabilize it, and then bring it back down into Earth’s atmosphere, where it is incinerated upon reentry. He said that the debris can travel around the Earth as fast as 7 to 8 kilometers per second, which is 10 times faster than a bullet.
Currently, the satellites are only able to capture one piece of space debris at a time. Okada said that Astroscale is currently working to develop a satellite that would be able to capture multiple pieces at once.
“We just developed the world’s first demonstration satellite, which is up there in space right now,” Okada said. “So we are going to show the demonstration quite soon.”
Talks between world leaders at the 2021 G7 Summit were a pivotal step in reaching a consensus surrounding the space debris crisis, according to Okada. Delegates from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.S., the U.K. and the E.U. agreed to make the problem a priority in order to ensure the sustainability of space usage.
Okada also emphasized the importance of removing larger pieces of space debris sooner rather than later, and said that the threat of a space debris collision “chain reaction,” otherwise known as the Kessler syndrome, is looming.
“There are so many near-misses every day and the collision probability is low,” Okada said. “However, there are more than 30,000 objects that are traveling 16 times around the Earth per day. So, [eventually] they collide with each other and there are multiple breakups right now. So if we do not take action, the debris will just continue colliding with each other and become small particles and we cannot place satellites anywhere.”
Source credit: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/the-space-junk-problem-is-getting-a-lot-worse-astroscale-ceo-142551000.html