Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts
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Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts
Curation of space debris, space junk and asteroid news
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Why Does This One Small Region Keep Getting Hit With Strange Space Junk?

Why Does This One Small Region Keep Getting Hit With Strange Space Junk? | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
The rural region of Murcia, Spain, just can’t seem to catch a break lately: It has the country’s highest poverty rate, had to ask for a bailout, and now it seems to have become a target for falling space junk.


Over the past several months, the tiny area has been the site of three space junk attacks, which initially added some excitement to the depressed region. When the first object fell, La Opinión de Murcia reporter Enrique Soler said that “the response of the population was mainly curiosity; everyone was wondering where it came from.”

A few days later, local farmers and shepherds discovered two more objects, and the area was put under quarantine. These round objects measured around 25 inches in diameter — about the size of a yoga ball — and weighed around 44 pounds.


The Spanish official Explosives Deactivation Team inspects the object that fell from the sky to determine if it poses a risk for the population of the area. Source: Spanish Civil Police.
Soon enough, curiosity transitioned to concern, Soler said. “When the second one, however, fell half a mile from Calasparra [a village of around 10,000 people] people were worried because the craters left by the objects were very big.”

Locals “saw an undetermined number of objects that looked like fire balls falling from the sky,” Soler told ATI. Fortunately, nobody has been hurt by these objects.

The odds of one region being repeatedly hit by space junk are quite low, especially when you look at the numbers. At any given moment, around 500,000 pieces of space junk — here referring to human-made detritus — are orbiting our planet. While some pieces are so small they can’t be tracked, others are bigger than a softball, and can come hurling at you at ridiculous speeds.

According to NASA, space debris travels at around 17,500 miles per hour, each piece becoming a flying weapon for spacecraft or the International Space Station. For that reason, NASA keeps a close eye on the junk’s trajectory (it even catalogues debris larger than the size of a marble) in case there is any risk of collision. And there is a risk: In 2014 alone, the International Space Station had to move three times to avoid fatal collisions with space junk.

So what happens to the junk after it’s been found? In Spain, procedure dictates that a team of explosive deactivation experts inspects the object to assure it doesn’t pose a risk. After that, it is kept in a safe location, waiting to be claimed.

In Murcia, the local government actually wants to exhibit these objects, which are thought to be spare fuel tanks from a space ship or rocket. The three “balls” found so far are not the only items space has thrust at Spain: Other metal objects have been discovered on farms across southern Spain, and have normally been thought to be falling pieces of regular aircrafts.
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Nasa creates a sticky 'space Velcro' gripper to clear up space debris

Nasa creates a sticky 'space Velcro' gripper to clear up space debris | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
Around 500,000 pieces of human-made debris currently orbit Earth, but researchers from Stanford University and Nasa's Jet Propulsion Lab in California claim they finally have the solution.
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Call for a sustainable future in space

Call for a sustainable future in space | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
With more than 750 000 pieces of dangerous debris now orbiting Earth, the urgent need for coordinated international action to ensure the long-term sustainability of spaceflight is a major finding from Europe’s largest-ever conference on space debris.

“We require a coordinated global solution to what is, after all, a global problem that affects critical satellites delivering services to all of us,” said Brigitte Zypries, German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, at a press briefing on the conference’s closing day in Darmstadt, Germany.

ESA Director General Jan Woerner appealed to space stakeholders to keep Earth’s orbital environment as clean as possible. Developing and implementing the ESA Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme as decided during ESA’s last ministerial council in 2016 will be a key factor.

“In order to enable innovative services for citizens and future developments in space, we must cooperate now to guarantee economically vital spaceflight. We must sustain the dream of future exploration,” he said.


Decision-makers on stage
The call for international action came on the final day of the European Conference on Space Debris, a gathering of over 350 participants from science, academia, industry and space agencies worldwide held at ESA’s mission control centre, where the ESA Space Debris Office and the SSA effort are based.

Findings from the week-long meeting were presented to media in front of Minister Zypries, who is also the German national aerospace coordinator, and Director General Woerner by senior ESA managers and representatives from the national space agencies of Italy, France, Germany and the UK, as well as the Committee on Space Research and the International Academy of Astronautics.

Addressing the space debris threat
The latest results of debris research were featured, especially the safe disposal of retired satellites and rocket stages and the still uncertain challenges posed by satellite megaconstellations being considered by commercial operators.

“Only about 60% of the satellites that should be disposed of at the end of their missions under current guidelines are, in fact, properly managed,” noted Holger Krag, head of ESA’s debris office.


World’s experts listen in
Researchers also confirmed there is now a critical need to remove defunct satellites from orbit before they disintegrate and generate even more debris.

“This means urgently developing the means for actively removing debris, targeting about 10 large defunct satellites from orbit each year, beginning as soon as possible – starting later will not be nearly as effective,” said Dr Krag.

Inconvenient truths
Since 1957, more than 5250 launches have led to a population today of more than 23 000 tracked debris objects in orbit. Only about 1200 are working satellites – the rest are debris and no longer serve any useful purpose. 

Many derelict craft have exploded or broken up, generating an estimated 750 000 pieces larger than 1 cm and a staggering 166 million larger than 1 mm.

“In orbit, these objects have tremendous relative velocities, faster than a bullet, and can damage or destroy functioning space infrastructure, like economically vital telecom, weather, navigation, broadcast and climate-monitoring satellites,” said Dr Krag.

Working for the future
Launched in 2009, SSA is developing software, technologies and precursor systems to test a fully European surveillance network that will ensure independent data on space infrastructure.

Additionally, the Agency is developing new technologies under the Clean Space initiative that promise a significant reduction in the creation of space pollution at all stages of space activities.

“Space debris threaten all working satellites, including Europe’s Sentinels and the Galileo navigation constellation, and any loss of space infrastructure would severely affect modern society,” noted Dr Krag.

“The sustainable use of space has been persuasively shown to be at risk, and the status quo is obviously no longer acceptable. We must now start removing dead satellites.
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U.S. national security experts warn of threats to military space systems - SpaceNews.com

U.S. national security experts warn of threats to military space systems - SpaceNews.com | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
National security experts told a House oversight panel Tuesday that the United States is failing to adequately address serious threats to its military space systems and that the Defense Department need to make major changes in its policies and acquisition strategies.

“The threat has outpaced our creation of policy and strategy appropriate to the need,” said retired Navy Adm. James Ellis Jr., who led U.S. Strategic Command when it merged with the U.S. Air Force Space Command. “We are playing catch-up in a very real sense, but it is not just about hardware and technology. A lot of it is about policies.”

For example, the United States must establish policies that will reassure allies and deter adversaries by clearly communicating, “What we stand for and what we will not stand for,” Ellis said Sept. 27 during a hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) called the hearing, “National Security Space: 21st Century Challenges, 20th Century Organization,” to address problems facing national security space and discuss recommendations for “major reform,” which he plans to include in the 2018 defense authorization bill. “This is the start of the focused oversight we will conduct,” Rogers said.

The changing presidential administration offers Congress an opportunity to remedy some of the problems facing national security space, witnesses said, including the fragmented organizational and leadership structure.

As a July Government Accountability Office report noted, about 60 organizations share responsibility for national security space within the Defense Department, Executive Office of the President, various civilian and intelligence agencies. “Nobody has got line authority to make decisions,” Rogers said. “This organizational chart has to be simplified.”

Witnesses discussed ways to simplify the organizational structure and acquisition process for space systems, but did not agree on whether the United States should create a Defense Space Agency with authority similar to that of the Missile Defense Agency, establish a new military department for space or leaving things unchanged.

The Defense Department urged the GAO not to recommend any immediate changes until it can determine the results of the most recent reform instituted in October 2015, which gave the Air Force Secretary, the title Principal Deputy Space Authority (PDSA), according to the July GAO report, Defense Space Acquisitions: Too Early to Determine If Recent Changes Will Resolve Persistent Fragmentation in Management and Oversight.

John Hamre, former deputy defense secretary, was skeptical the PDSA designation would be an effective remedy. Whoever leads national security space needs a combination of the oversight responsibility the Office of the Secretary of Defense enjoys combined with the ability to run an organization, like the U.S. Special Operations Command. “You could do it through a defense agency or through a unified command, but you need somebody who is going to work every day and that is their job,” Hamre said. “They are not simply advising the Secretary of Defense.”

Witnesses also said the Defense Department and NRO need to reform their acquisition process. “It used to be that a brilliant colonel with a couple of briefings could get in front of the Secretary of Defense in a couple weeks,” Hamre said. “Now, it takes months, maybe a year, for a good idea to get in front of the Secretary of Defense and the steps along the way are just unbelievable. The acquisition system is failing us.”


Martin Faga, former director of the National Reconnaissance Office and former Air Force assistant secretary for space. Credit: HASC video
The acquisition system also is failing to emphasize resilience, said Martin Faga, former director of the National Reconnaissance Office and former Air Force assistant secretary for space. Faga and Ellis led a classified National Academies study, “National Security Space Defense and Protection,” published in August. While conducting the study, its authors recognized that in an era where adversaries will attempt to thwart U.S. space operations, the military and intelligence community’s ability to “acquire, modify, backup or replace space capability must be more flexible and more rapid than today,” Faga told the panel. It takes far too long for both the military services and intelligence agencies to decide what to build, he added.

In addition, the military and intelligence community are not focused on making space systems resilient. “We need to understand there is robustness and resilience in having a lot of less capable assets,” Ellis said. “Maybe we take a little less capability and a lot more resilience as we more forward.”

That focus on reliance may prompt the military to rely more on commercial products and services, witnesses said. “We are really good at building reconnaissance satellites, but we can only afford to buy one or two,” Hamre said. “We need to put much more of our focus on what the private sector can give us and how we can use that.”
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Space Junk Damages ESA Satellite - The Vision Times

Space Junk Damages ESA Satellite - The Vision Times | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it

Satellites perform a variety of jobs in space. From bouncing cell phone signals to beaming your favorite television shows, satellites are necessary machines of the 21st century.  Now, it seems that one of the ESA’s (European Space Agency) satellites might not be performing at peak capacity. Why? A piece of space debris hit it.

So, what exactly happened?
The debris affected the satellite known as Copernicus Sentinel A-1 on August 23. Sometimes, satellite debris hitting an object in space isn’t a big deal. At other times, it can lead to the loss of an entire spacecraft. This particular instance is noteworthy for a couple of reasons.

First, the particle is of an unknown origin. Scientists can see the object slam into the satellite, but aren’t exactly sure what it is. Their best guess is simply “space junk.”  This is peculiar because scientists on the ground can usually detect when a satellite could cross paths with other flying objects.

Secondly, the piece of debris collided with the satellite at an astounding 24,800 mph. Though the debris was only a few millimeters in size, it was still able to damage an area 40 cm wide (15.7 inches) in one of the solar panels. This incident brings up the question of space junk and its effect on man-made spacecraft and technology.

Space debris 101

Man-made space junk has a fascinating story. Humans have launched a lot of things into space. The majority of the time, these objects stay in orbit once their missions are complete. (Image: David.Shikomba (Own work)/ CC BY-SA 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons)

Space debris can be broken down into two categories: natural and man-made. Natural space debris mainly consists of objects such as extremely small meteorites. The size of these objects varies. Most debris is so small that they are untraceable. A smaller amount of debris mimics the size of a softball, and can do significantly more damage.

Man-made space junk has a fascinating story. Humans have launched a lot of things into space. The majority of the time, these objects stay in orbit once their missions are complete. Hundreds of satellites and pieces of spacecraft float aimlessly within Earth’s orbit. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue. However, they can impact a functioning satellite and damage it if the two cross paths. Astronauts have learned to try and prevent these events from occurring.

Built to withstand the extremes of space

However, satellites also have another foe to deal with: radiation. Radiation swamps space. It’s everywhere, as far as the eye can see. (Image: Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

These days, any piece of equipment in space is built to withstand minor impacts. Manufacturers must use stainless steels and corrosion-resistant alloys to prevent wear and tear on satellites. However, satellites also have another foe to deal with: radiation. Radiation swamps space. It’s everywhere, as far as the eye can see. Though space technology is supremely advanced, radiation still causes a major problem for space agencies by damaging onboard research equipment.

Research has been done to study the effects of radiation on satellites. As satellites continue to advance, they become increasingly susceptible to radiation than previously launched satellites. Why? It has to do with the transistors in the satellite, which are particularly vulnerable to radiation.

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors doubles for a circuit once every 18-24 months; therefore, this increases the chance of radiation affecting a satellite. With that number increasing every year and a half, the chances radiation will hurt the satellite only increases.

Space defense                                      
One of the ways astronauts and scientists combat radiation is with a radiation detection system. The onboard computer system of the satellite houses this detection system among other necessary instruments. If the satellite comes into any harmful radiation areas, the scientists back on Earth will know.

The satellites are built to withstand the wilderness of space, so not too much should be able to hurt them, if it’s not that big. However, the best course of action scientists take is maneuvering the spacecraft/satellite out of the way. Unfortunately, this only works if they detect the object in time.

What’s happening now
Copernicus Sentinel-1A did have damage to a solar panel. According to the ESA, further analysis is necessary and in the works to determine if the object was man-made, or natural. Thankfully, the satellite is still operational after being blindsided by a rogue space object

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Researchers Create Nanodiamonds for Potential Use in Spacecraft, Satellites

Researchers Create Nanodiamonds for Potential Use in Spacecraft, Satellites | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
Researchers at Rice University are creating nanodiamonds and other forms of carbon by crushing nanotubes against a target at great speeds. Nanodiamonds won't make anyone rich, however the method of producing them will enhance the knowledge of scientists who design structures that resist damage caused by high-speed impacts.
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Nasa launches spacecraft to 'high-five' asteroid and capture debris

Nasa launches spacecraft to 'high-five' asteroid and capture debris | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
The mission has been described as a ‘slow high-five’ with a nearby asteroid to collect material that could date back to the origins of the solar system
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Setting a satellite to catch a satellite

Setting a satellite to catch a satellite | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
The target is set: a large derelict satellite currently silently tumbling its way through low orbit. If all goes to plan, in 2023 it will vanish – and efforts against space debris will have made a giant leap forward.

That is the vision underpinning e.Deorbit, intended as the world’s first mission to remove a large piece of space junk – if it is given the initial go-ahead by Europe’s space ministers at the Agency’s Ministerial Council in December.


e.Deorbit mission profile
The basic idea is simple: set a satellite to catch a satellite. e.Deorbit will rendezvous with, grapple and hard-capture the drifting satellite, then push the pair down to burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere.

More than 75% of trackable space debris whizzes around in Earth’s heavily trafficked low orbits, below 2000 km altitude. Even if all launches stopped tomorrow, the level of debris would go on rising, driven by continuing collisions.

The only way to stabilise debris levels over the long run will be to remove entire large items.

“While the concept is straightforward, the implementation is not – e.Deorbit will be like nothing ESA has ever attempted before,” explains Robin Biesbroek, ESA’s study manager. 

“The chaser satellite requires extremely sophisticated guidance, navigation and control to synchronise motion and then capture its target, guided in turn by advanced image processing, blending inputs from optical and multispectral cameras as well as ‘laser radar’ lidar to derive a precise, reliable sense of the target and its motion.

ESA's active debris removal mission: e.Deorbit
Access the video
“In addition, e.Deorbit needs a reliable method of capturing its target. We are now looking at a net, harpoon or gripper as well as advanced robotics to secure the two satellites together.


Grappling derelict satellite
“Finally, the satellite also requires a very high level of autonomy, because continuous realtime control from the ground will not be practical, especially during the crucial capture phase.”

ESA’s Clean Space initative, focused on safeguarding the terrestrial and orbital environments, has supported e.Deorbit development so far.

“Industry is eager to participate,” says Luisa Innocenti, heading Clean Space. “The mission should be a spectacular showcase for the capabilities of Europe’s space businesses. 


Transporting netted satellite
“The industry consensus is that a new class of ‘space tugs’ will arise to offer various services such as in-orbit servicing or refuelling.

“The technologies such spacecraft will require overlap with those being developed for e.Deorbit – so it will be the first of the space tugs, demonstrating its performance with an unprecedented achievement.

“After this Ministerial, we propose to finalise the design and realistically test key technologies – including weightless net testing on a suborbital rocket – to be ready to build after final approval from the next Ministerial, for a planned launch in April 2023.”
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We Might Be Totally Wrong About Why the Dinosaurs Went Extinct

We Might Be Totally Wrong About Why the Dinosaurs Went Extinct | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
How the dinosaurs went extinct is a contentious topic of endless scientific debate. Were they killed by a giant asteroid, a rash of volcanic eruptions, or some deadly combination of the two? Or, perhaps, we’ve been thinking about the problem all wrong.

Here’s a different take. It wasn’t just cataclysmic events that did in the dinosaurs—these were the final nail in the coffin. The lineage had already been crumbling for millions of years. The idea isn’t new, but a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences today offers the strongest evidence yet that the extinction of the dinosaurs was less like a healthy tree getting toppled by a chainsaw, and more like a sickly one blowing over in a gust of wind.

“Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, there were all these claims that the dinosaurs lived happily up to the impact and then they were wiped out,” Gerta Keller, a paleontologist at Princeton University, who was not involved with the study, told Gizmodo. “I think this [study] kills that notion.”

A dispute over what ended the reign of the biggest and baddest reptiles in Earth’s history has been raging in the halls of bones for decades, ever since the discovery of the Chicxulub crater off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in 1980. The crater, which dates to exactly the same moment in time as the disappearance of dinosaurs in the fossil record, was lauded by some as smoking gun evidence that a giant impact triggered the KT-extinction 66 million years ago.

But other paleontologists, including Keller, disagree. Around the same time that the Chicxulub crater was unearthed, other digs were turning up evidence of widespread volcanic activity 66 million years ago, in a series of geologic formations known as the Deccan traps. “The impact was a one-hit wonder, whereas the volcanism happened over 250,000 years,” Keller said. “During that time, the dinosaurs disappeared just like that.”

Most of us have heard of the giant asteroid impact, and the possibility that volcanoes played a role is also well-known. But a complementary school of thought contends that neither of these two events gives us the full story. Rather, some researchers say the dinosaur lineage was slowly pruning itself for many millions of years prior to the KT-boundary. Until now, this idea has seen limited scientific support.


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“Previous studies were quite simple,” Manabu Sakamoto, a paleontologist at the University of Reading and lead author on the new study told Gizmodo. “They counted the number of [dinosaur] species around at each age or time interval to see which ones were peaking or troughing when. To be honest, it’s not a very statistical approach.”

Sakamoto and his colleagues used a more rigorous procedure, measuring the number of times new dinosaur species emerged (so-called “speciation events”) throughout geologic history. Over the Triassic and Jurassic, dinosaur diversity was on the rise, but by the early Cretaceous, speciation had begun to plateau. By the mid to late-Cretaceous, the rate of dinosaur evolution had taken a sharp downturn. It would continue to fall for millions of years before the Chixculub impact.

“New species weren’t being produced as fast as species were going extinct,” Sakamoto explained. “That made the dinosaurs vulnerable to drastic environmental changes—especially something like an apocalypse.”

While Sakamoto’s study does not delve into the reasons behind the dinosaurs’ slow slide into oblivion, he said that many factors may have contributed. “The things we can model are quite limited,” he said. “But we can say that, during the time when we observed a switch from slowdown to an actual decline, the world was going through some quite drastic changes.” These include prolonged volcanism, the breakup of the supercontinent Pangea, and a major global cooling episode.

“They could have made a really strong case with climate,” Keller said. “At the end, where the strong decline happens, is really when climate starts terminally cooling. And that’s where the disappearance is very rapid.”

We may never have the full story on the collapse of the dinosaurs—too much of the evidence has been lost to time. But the more we refine our tools for peering into the past, the more obvious it becomes that these impressive beasts weren’t killed off in a single shot. It was death by a thousand cuts, ranging from environmental change to extraterrestrial impacts to massive eruptions. And that trajectory is disturbingly relevant when considering our planet’s present course.

“We live in a world where we face unprecedented levels of extinction almost daily,” Sakamoto said. “If we are going by the example of dinosaurs, it might mean were are priming our world for a mass of extinction, given some kind of a catastrophic event. By inferring things that happened in the past, we can say something about our own future.”
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Do We Need Air Traffic Controllers For Space?

Do We Need Air Traffic Controllers For Space? | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
The world’s spacefaring nations need the orbital equivalent of air traffic controllers — the cool professionals who guide planes from airport to airport — to direct satellites and other spacecraft in their increasingly crowded flight paths above the Earth’s atmosphere, U.S. officials say.

They envision a civilian-run “satellite management” agency, akin to the Federal Aviation Administration, and possibly even the FAA itself, overseeing this effort.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to do it,” said Douglas Loverro, deputy assistant defense secretary for space policy, at the National Space Symposium, an annual conference here sponsored by the Space Foundation. “It’s going to take a decade or more, but we have to go [down] that path now.”

Currently, the Air Force monitors and tracks objects in space to keep U.S. satellites safe. Among the hazards are hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris traveling upward of 17,000 miles per hour. The U.S. has needed to reposition satellites to avoid wreckage created in 2007 by a Chinese test of an anti-satellite weapon. Then, there are thousands of working and dead satellites orbiting Earth, with many more commercial spacecraft expected to launch in coming years.

“If you look at layers of orbit, in some of these orbits we will see a 100- to 1,000-percent increase in the number of objects” in space, Loverro said. “That is a space traffic management problem.”

Tomorrow’s space traffic managers won’t necessarily control satellites as tightly as today’s air traffic controllers do planes.

“I don’t know if that will ever be done,” he said. “But I do know that we need somebody to be able to go ahead and look at the problem and say, ‘Maybe you should adjust your orbital parameters to go ahead and reduce collision risk.’”

“If we think that this is going to be a problem,” he said, “we need a regulatory structure to do this. I think the first entree into that is allowing FAA into the space traffic monitoring game, which will eventually, I think, lead to a space traffic management.”

Rep. James Bridenstine, R-Okla., at the Space Symposium on Tuesday announced sweeping legislation that would require the government to put an agency in charge of space traffic management by 2020.

Loverro said he is agnostic as to which agency should oversee the management. But he does believe that the United States should take the lead, lest another country, one that might not have America’s best interests in mind, swoop in.

“I would like the U.S. to be preeminent in establishing those rules … in the same way we were preeminent in air in establishing air traffic management rules, [which are] now propagated throughout the world,” he said.

The many arms of the military that have assets in space, Loverro said, “are all on the same sheet of music on this.”

Air traffic controllers today seamlessly manage both civilian and military aircraft. But when rockets are launched, large swaths of airspace are shut down.

“We have got to do something about that and there has to be a way that we can allow … routine space launch activities to happen that are going through national airspace,” said Pamela Melroy, deputy director of the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA, the Pentagon’s research agency.

Melroy said rockets might carry aircraft transponders, allowing civil air traffic controllers to monitor launches. That air traffic controller could “hand off” the rocket to a space traffic controller the way airliners get passed seamlessly between FAA centers.

“Another reason why we should be thinking about the FAA,” Melroy said, is “because I think this is where it’s going to end up.”
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NASA: Top 10 space junk missions

While many of the usual suspects are still the top space junk producers, much more debris is now floating around Earth’s atmosphere since the six years NASA last looked a the top 10 space junk missions.


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NASA' s Orbital Debris Program Office said that by far the source of the greatest amount of   orbital   debris   remains   the   Fengyun-1C   spacecraft, which was the target of   a People’s Republic of China anti-satellite test in January 2007.

+More on Network World: 13 awesome and scary things in near Earth space+

“This   satellite alone   now   accounts   for 3,428 cataloged fragments or almost 20% of   the entire population of   cataloged manmade objects in orbit about the planet.   Additional debris from this test and other events are currently being tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN) and are officially cataloged on a routine basis,” NASA stated. In 2010 there were 2,841 pieces of junk from this spacecraft.

Orbital debris can include all manner of space system parts from derelict spacecraft and upper stages of launch vehicles to debris intentionally released during spacecraft separation from its launch vehicle or during mission operations and even tiny flecks of paint from small particle hits on existing spacecraft, NASA said.

The space agency says that 10 missions out of the 5,160 space missions that have launched since 1957 account for approximately one-third of all cataloged objects now in Earth orbit.

NASA said that the second and fourth most significant satellite   breakups   are   Cosmos   2251   and Iridium 33 spacecraft, which were involved in

The first ever accidental satellite collision February 2009.

“While over 68% of   the Cosmos debris cloud remains on orbit, only 58% of the Iridium cloud is on orbit, due in part to the higher area-to-mass ratio bias of the latter cloud. Because of their relatively high altitude, these clouds will continue to present a hazard for decades to come, NASA said.

Here are the top 10:

NASA
+More on Network World: How to protect Earth from asteroid destruction+

Aside from the top 10, NASA made note of some other recent break-ups that are leaving more debris in orbit:

In late November 2015, the decommissioned U.S. weather satellite NOAA-16 experienced a fragmentation event, resulting in a substantial debris cloud. There is no indication that the breakup was anything other than an explosion, possibly due to a battery failure.
A System Obespecheniya Zapuska ullage motor from a Proton Block DM fourth stage broke up at approximately 12:12 GMT on 26 March 2016. These motors have a long history of fragmentations. This event is the 44th breakup of this class of object over its history and the first since 2014. Ullage motors, used to settle propellants prior to an engine. Given difficulties in tracking objects in elliptical and deep space orbits, there could be many more fragments on orbit.
The Briz-M upper stage associated with the launch of Canada’s Nimiq 6 communications satellite fragmented on 23 December 2015 at approximately 16:00 GMT. The object consists of the core body of the Briz-M upper stage, the separable Auxiliary Propellant Tank having been jettisoned earlier in the launch sequence. As of 3 April 2016, eight debris had officially entered the SSN catalog in addition to the parent object.
A debris object associated with the launch of Russia’s Spektr-R radio astronomy satellite fragmented on 3-4 August 2015. The object is described as one of five debris objects cataloged with this launch. The event, of unknown cause, produced a total of 24 debris. As of 3 April 2016 none had entered the SSN catalog.
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Space mystery: Japan’s $273 million “Black Hole” satellite has vanished

Space mystery: Japan’s $273 million “Black Hole” satellite has vanished | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it

Japan claims its “Black Hole” satellite Hitomi was “essential” to solving the mysteries of the universe, but now the satellite itself is the mystery, as Gizmodo explains it has just up and disappeared, “leaving behind only an ominous trail of debris and some cryptic messages”:

Hitomi was launched back on February 17 by Japan’s Space Agency. It was a full-scale X-ray observatory, much of the equipment of which came from NASA, which was intended to do everything from exploring some of the mysteries of black holes to teaching us about the early evolution of galaxies. It was to be, in the words of JAXA, “the essential mission to solve mysteries of the universe in X-rays.” Then, something — an explosion, a collision or something else entirely — changed Hitomi’s course.

Things were initially looking so good after launch that JAXA renamed the satellite previously known just as ASTRO-H to Hitomi. “Hitomi refers to the aperture of the eye, the part where incoming light is absorbed,” the agency explained. “From this, Hitomi reminds us of a black hole. We will observe Hitomi in the universe using the Hitomi satellite.”

Hitomi was due to wake-up and start responding to ground communications this weekend. But then the Joint Space Operations Center, which tracks debris in our orbit, announced that they’d seen pieces of the satellite breaking up into space on Saturday. Things got even more complicated when JAXA confirmed early this morning that, well after the debris was spotted, they’d also been able to receive messages from Hitomi.

While Japan still hopes to recover its satellite, chances are looking pretty slim.

And NASA has pretty much shown it cannot be trusted ever. After the agency cut the live ISS transmission feed earlier this week following a bizarre horseshoe shaped object’s appearance over Earth’s horizon, the whole thing begs the question…

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Un astéroïde géant pourrait percuter la Terre en 2135, la Nasa a un plan pour l’en empêcher

Un astéroïde géant pourrait percuter la Terre en 2135, la Nasa a un plan pour l’en empêcher | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
D’accord, ce n’est pas pour tout de suite. L’impact possible de l’astéroïde Bennu avec notre Terre est prévu pour le 21 septembre 2135. Mais s’il a lieu, ça va faire du bruit : ce corps céleste mesure près de 500 mètres pour un poids de 3,4 milliards de tonnes de roches et de glace. La Nasa, qui aime anticiper les problèmes, a déjà réfléchi à un plan. Ça ressemble à du cinéma, mais c’est la réalité.

Soyez gentils : laissez un mot, une note, un message à vos arrière-arrière-petits-enfants. Qu’ils marquent au feutre rouge (si ça existe encore) la date du 21 septembre 2135. Et qu’ils renoncent à leurs activités prévues ce moment-là. Parce qu’il se pourrait bien que, ce jour-là précisément, un astéroïde géant s’écrase sur la Terre.

Pour la Nasa, qui suit de près les milliers de corps célestes qui gravitent dans la banlieue plus ou moins proche de notre planète, voire de notre système solaire, Bennu – c’est son nom – constitue une menace sérieuse. À cause de sa taille : 490 mètres de long. Et, surtout, de son poids : 3,4 milliards de tonnes. Sacré monstre : lui ne va pas se transformer en poétique étoile filante. Lancé à 100 000 km/h en orbite autour du Soleil depuis des millions d’années, il devrait se révéler menaçant pour notre Terre dans un peu plus d’un siècle. Pas de chance pour nous.

Relativisons. D’abord, l’événement est lointain - a priori, vous et moi ne serons plus là.. Ensuite, d’après la Nasa, il n’a qu’une chance sur 2 700 de se produire (ce qui est peu, et beaucoup), Bennu pouvant avoir la bonne idée de ne faire que passer – à quelques centaines de milliers de kilomètres, par exemple. Au fur et à mesure de la poursuite de sa course folle, les scientifiques – qui ne l’ont repéré qu’en 1999, d’où son premier nom de baptême, 1999 RQ36 - vont pouvoir affiner leurs prévisions. Cela dit, certains d’entre eux rappellent que tous les mille ans environ, un objet céleste de grande taille s’écrase sur la Terre.

Souvenez-vous de l’explosion de l’astéroïde de Tcheliabinsk, en Russie, le 15 février 2013. L’événement avait été filmé et largement commenté : il avait blessé plus d’un millier de personnes et détruits des dizaines de milliers de vitres. Précision qui a son importance : cet astéroïde ne mesurait qu’une vingtaine de mètres de diamètre. Mais son explosion dans l’atmosphère avait libéré une puissance équivalente à 35 fois Hiroshima.

Du coup, Bennu et ses presque 500 mètres pourraient provoquer un véritable cataclysme sur Terre. D’où l’idée de la Nasa de détruire ou de faire dévier ce corps céleste avant qu’il ne ravage notre planète. Un peu comme dans le film Armageddon ? Oui. Avec Bruce Willis en moins. Et une fusée assez spéciale en plus.

Pour cela, l’agence américaine collabore avec l’Administration nationale de la sécurité nucléaire et deux laboratoires d’armes du Département de l’énergie. Elle a en effet prévu la construction d’un vaisseau spatial baptisé Hammer (pour Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response). En gros, il pourrait agir soit comme un bélier pour détourner Bennu, soit comme un explosif, grâce à deux missiles tactiques nucléaires. Dans ce dernier cas, l’idée ne serait pas de tirer sur l’intrus, mais de faire exploser les ogives un peu en avant de sa trajectoire, de façon à le « vaporiser ».

En attendant, la NASA veut mieux connaître ce gros caillou. Elle a donc lancé en 2016 une sonde chargée d’aller l’étudier de plus près. Baptisée Osiris-Rex, celle-ci est en route pour Bennu, et devrait s’y poser avant la fin de l’année. En théorie, elle devrait en rapporter en 2023 des échantillons de sa surface.

Quoi qu’il en soit, les scientifiques à l’origine de la création de la fusée Hammer présenteront leurs travaux en mai 2018 au Japon, lors d’un colloque consacré aux perturbations potentiellement catastrophiques pour notre système solaire. Pendant ce temps, Bennu continue sa ronde folle, à plus de 100 000 km/h.
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This Gecko-Inspired Robotic Gripper Could Help Clean up Space Debris

This Gecko-Inspired Robotic Gripper Could Help Clean up Space Debris | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
Stanford engineers recently designed a robotic gripper featuring a gecko-inspired adhesive to be used for collecting space debris.
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Researchers find Star Wars ‘superlaser’ is actually possible

Researchers find Star Wars ‘superlaser’ is actually possible | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
As one of the most iconic series in science fiction, fans of the Star Wars franchise have often theorised about how possible some of the ‘superweapons’ seen on film could be in real life.

The most obvious one, of course, is the ‘superlaser’ found aboard the moon-sized Death Star, with its giant photonic weapon that was powerful enough to obliterate a planet in a matter of seconds.



The biggest challenge – at least for serious scientists – was trying to find out how much energy the superlaser would need in order to fire.

New research from a team at Macquarie University in Australia has now managed to prove that it is physically possible to multiply a laser’s power, using diamond.

In a paper published to Laser and Photonics Reviews, Dr Aaron McKay and his team were able to demonstrate a concept that would take the power of multiple laser beams and transfer it into a single intense beam directed at a target.

The key component of this future superweapon is achieved by placing an ultra-pure diamond crystal at the point of convergence.

Future uses in space
The ability to combine laser beams into a single force is achieved in diamond by harnessing a cooperative effect of the crystal, causing intense light beams to transfer their power into a selected direction.

In doing so, it avoids the beam distortion problems of single laser technologies, while also changing the colour.

Unlike other attempts to create one powerful beam from multiple sources, diamond can achieve a much higher degree of power and rapidly dissipate waste heat.

“This discovery is technologically important as laser researchers are struggling with increasing power beyond a certain level due to the large challenges in handling the large heat build-up, and combining beams from multiple lasers is one of the most promising ways to substantially raise the power barrier,” McKay said.

Potential future uses – aside from creating the frightening superlaser – could be within the space sector, either as a means of communication or in the fight against the ever-growing problem of space debris.
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U.S., China will meet this year to talk space debris - SpaceNews.com

U.S., China will meet this year to talk space debris - SpaceNews.com | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
China and the United States plan to hold a second set of talks later this year to discuss how their militaries operate in space.

In a keynote speech here Sept. 22 at the AMOS conference, Frank Rose, the assistant secretary of State for arms control, verification and compliance, said that the upcoming discussion would likely include talk of space debris.

While representatives from the U.S. and China have met previously to talk about civil uses of space, the two sides met for a separate discussion of military space topics for the first time in May.

Space debris has been a divisive issue between the countries for nearly a decade.

On Jan. 11, 2007, China deliberately destroyed one of its defunct weather satellites known as Fengyun-1C using a ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile. The action, which was widely condemned throughout the international space community, left a cloud of potentially hazardous debris in a heavily used belt of Earth orbit.

Since that event, U.S. Defense Department leaders say China continues to develop anti-satellite weapons and officials point to similar tests in 2010, 2013 and 2014.

Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community and the Defense Department frequently point to China’s actions in developing anti-satellite weapons as a driver in its ongoing space protection efforts.

But Rose said he had “a very frank exchange” with his counterpart from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a meeting in Washington, D.C. in May and that the conversation included space debris, preventing collisions on orbit and China’s anti-satellite systems.

“It’s very clear there are new threats to the space systems and the space systems of our allies. At the same time, we need a comprehensive approach to this threat. There is no silver bullet,” Rose said. “We want to promote strategic restraint where we can. We’ve also made it very clear to China, Russia and other potential adversaries the United States will defend ourselves and our friends in outer space.”

U.S. government estimates say the 2007 test led to 3,400 pieces of debris, more than half of which is expected to still be in orbit in 2027.

But Rose also said the two countries are making progress. Following U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to China earlier this month, the White House issued a fact sheet saying “the United States and China recognized that space debris can be catastrophic to satellite and human spaceflight, and that, due to the global dependence on space-based capabilities, the creation of space debris can seriously affect all nations.”

Rose said that five years ago, such discussions would have been nearly impossible. But in the last 18 months he has been to China seven times and worked hard to find common ground on the issue.

Now, he said, China takes “space debris very seriously” and U.S. State Department officials have been encouraged that China’s recent anti-satellite tests have not created debris. At the same time, in recent years, the Air Force has provided China thousands of collision alert, warning that debris from the 2007 test was nearing their satellites.

“We have made significant progress. Are we where I would like us to be? The answer is no,” Rose said. “But if you had asked me five years ago whether the United States and China would release fact sheets on the challenge of space debris at the presidential level, I would have said ‘You’re smoking something.
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More United in Space Than on Earth: Countries Work Closely to Fend Off Asteroids

More United in Space Than on Earth: Countries Work Closely to Fend Off Asteroids | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
It may have spelt doom for the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but it seems the biggest threat to humanity as a whole is still the risk of asteroids - or comets - hitting the planet and wiping us all out.
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Is the ISS Safe from Space Debris?

Large pieces of space debris could potentially cause severe damage to the ISS. When a collision is possible, astronauts have special "Soyuz lifeboats" the
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How to clean up space debris – using game theory

How to clean up space debris – using game theory | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
A piece of debris just 10cm in diameter could cause an entire spacecraft to disintegrate and it is estimated that there are more than 29,000 objects larger than 10cm in Earth's orbit. This poses a major risk to the spacecraf
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Important Element of the European SSA Programme To Be Created in Poland

Important Element of the European SSA Programme To Be Created in Poland | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
Creotech Instruments S.A. company has signed an agreement related to implementation of the second part of the Neostel programme, known under the name of Neosted.
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Irish-based geologists make zircon crystals breakthrough

Irish-based geologists make  zircon crystals  breakthrough | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
TCD researchers discover oldest pieces of rock are found in asteroid impact craters
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A Disney space station? It no longer seems like such a goofy idea

A Disney space station? It no longer seems like such a goofy idea | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
Throughout our planet’s space-faring history, there have been two major impediments to putting a lot of private citizens into orbit. Only governments have had spacecraft, and there have been only a few government-controlled space stations to visit.  But now that may finally changing in a big way. Within less than two years, both Boeing and SpaceX should complete development of private capsules that will carry people into space. Two other companies, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada, are also developing orbital spacecraft.

The second part of the problem may soon be addressed as well. Less than a week after the launch of Bigelow Aerospace’s experimental 13-foot habitat to the International Space Station, the company has announced an agreement with United Launch Alliance to deliver two much larger B330 habitats into orbit by 2020. Each of these habitats, which will be fully self-sufficient, has 330 cubic meters of habitable volume—about one-third that of the space station.

FURTHER READING


HERE’S WHY THE NEXT SPACEX LAUNCH ISN’T JUST ABOUT THE BOOSTER LANDING
Bigelow's inflatable module may one day revolutionize in-space habitation.
Financial details of the agreement were not released, but the move is significant because of its potential to become the first truly commercial human activity in space—people launching aboard private spacecraft and staying in a privately developed habitat. “We are standing on the very threshold of an expanded and permanent human presence beyond our planet, and the foundation for that future will be the commercialization of low-Earth orbit,” said Tory Bruno, president and chief executive of United Launch Alliance, at a news conference this week.
Bigelow Aerospace is most definitely thinking commercial. Robert Bigelow, the hotel entrepreneur who founded the company, characterized the large, expandable habitats as “time shares.” The first participants might well be space tourists, staying perhaps a week, or they may be commercial researchers. There will be an opportunity for naming and branding of the space habitats, perhaps by an anchor tenant. The goal of sponsorship would be to keep costs lower for users or individuals. “We would love to see Disney have a Disney space station,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be cool?”

Aside from mass, the primary limitation of launching objects into space is that all structures must fit inside a rocket’s payload fairing. Because expandables lack a rigid structure, they can be folded inside this limited diameter, and once in space, they can be inflated to create a massive amount of volume. With their composite structure, expandables should offer as good or better protection from orbital debris and radiation as the aluminum shell of the International Space Station.

Let’s work together, NASA... please

Despite the push for commercial viability, Bigelow said his company would still like to work with NASA when the first B330 is launched. Although the orbital mechanics of delivering the structure to the space station are not simple and there are myriad technical concerns about connecting such a large object to the station, Bigelow said he would still like to see the first B330 tested at the national laboratory.

Such a test would provide NASA with a “terrific opportunity” to assess the facility, he said, and give the Bigelow company confidence in a new suite of life-support technologies. But getting permission will require running through a gauntlet of technical challenges and questions, from convincing station engineers that the large B330 will not perturb the station during its expansion to working with the laboratory’s international partners.

During a news conference this week, Bigelow was asked why he didn’t just want to fly autonomously and avoid the headache of dealing with NASA. “That is really attractive, believe me,” he acknowledged. “However, that isn’t in the best interests of NASA. The station offers the best choice of the two choices, and our hope is that NASA will be the primary customer.”

If NASA agrees to the test, it may also benefit Bigelow by helping to pay for the launch of the module to the station.

NASA declined comment on the possibility of docking a B330 to the space station, reiterating only that it had signed a NextSTEP agreement with the company to study the possibility of using its expandable technology for deep space habitation. That contract is worth up to $1 million—and potentially much more—if NASA selects the technology for additional development.

FURTHER READING


NASA OFFICIAL WARNS PRIVATE SECTOR: WE’RE MOVING ON FROM LOW-EARTH ORBIT
Top human spaceflight official says companies should take advantage of space station.
NASA and Bigelow have already partnered to launch the company’s much smaller BEAM module to the station. Beginning early Saturday morning, flight controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center will use the space station's robotic arm to remove BEAM from the unpressurized trunk of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and attach it to the station’s Tranquility module. The Bigelow module will be expanded at the end of May; astronauts will enter it in early June if all goes well.

The potential use of a B330 module on station highlights the difficult balance NASA must strike as it seeks to move beyond low-Earth orbit toward exploring deeper space near the Moon—and possibly sending humans to Mars in a few decades. While it looks to deep space, NASA would also like to leverage the value of the its space station, which will fly for at least another eight years, to help private companies commercialize low-Earth orbit. But in doing so, it does not want to completely subsidize those businesses and end up being the sole customer.

And that’s the biggest question facing Bigelow and United Launch Alliance. How big is the market beyond NASA in low-Earth orbit? So far, because of high launch costs and very limited commercial activity, no markets have developed to make space profitable. With a private launch company and a private hotelier seeking to offer such opportunities to commercialize space, will anyone show up to use them?

“The vision is the most exciting part of this,” Bruno said. “This is innovation. The real thing. We needed a place to go and a way to get there and get back. The funnest part about this type of endeavour is that we just don’t know what will happen now.”
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NASA just gave 13 crazy, high-impact research projects $100K each

NASA just gave 13 crazy, high-impact research projects $100K each | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
It's 2016, and we've got tiny orbital satellites that anybody can operate; reusable rockets that can land on drone ships (after a few attempts, maybe); and miniature spacecraft that might soon be able to travel to other solar systems.

In a word: whoa. We're pretty amazed. But that's just today. What will the next generation of astronomical science look like? NASA's just given its best indication of what that could be, announcing 13 research proposals that have made it through to Phase 1 of its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

"The 2016 NIAC Phase I competition was fierce, as usual. All of the final candidates were outstanding, and limiting the choice to what fit in our budget was difficult," said NIAC program executive Jason Derleth. "We hope each new study will push boundaries and explore new approaches – that's what makes NIAC unique."

The Phase 1 awards give awardees US$100,000 for nine months to work on the feasibility of their concepts, and if they make it through to Phase II, they'll score an extra $500,000 to support two more years of concept development.

So what made the cut this year? Here are five of the most exciting projects from NIAC 2016:

Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata



Also known as Project RAMA, this concept seeks to transform asteroids into spacecraft we can control, by fitting them out with computers, avionics, and propulsion systems. Potential objectives for robo-asteroids include piloting them to pick up humans on rescue missions or steering Earth-threatening space rocks out of harm's way.

Brane Craft



What's humanity going to do to get rid of the space junk that sits in orbit around Earth (and potentially other planets in the future)? One answer could be this extremely light and thin membrane-style spacecraft, which could pilot to debris, wrap itself around it, then transport it elsewhere. Kind of like Mr Fantastic with a jetpack.

Journey to the Centre of Icy Moons



Exploring the subsurface oceans of far-off worlds could tell us any number of things about how those planets or moons came to be, but how can we get down there? This surface-to-subsurface robotic system dubbed Icy-moon Cryovolcano Explorer (ICE) would be designed to land on icy moons, climb down ice volcanoes, and basically make Jules Verne fiction into reality.

Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments



Extremely hot planetary environments like Venus's aren't well-suited to conventional probes, killing the Soviet probes that landed on the surface within minutes or hours. This purely mechanical rover concept using hardened metals could hypothetically survive on the surface for weeks or months – although it remains to be seen what kind of exploration or research a rover without any electronics systems could perform.

Urban Biomining Meets Printable Electronics: End-to-End Destination Biological Recycling and Reprinting



In space, the raw resources necessary to make new technological components are hard to come by. This nifty recycling system might be able to repurpose spent mission electronics by using microbes as a 'bio-ink' to print new electronic devices. Waste not, want not!


For more amazing ideas for the future, you can see the whole NIAC shortlist here. The future of space looks like it's in good hands
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These old nuclear missiles could be used to clean up space debris

These old nuclear missiles could be used to clean up space debris | Space debris + Hypervelocity impacts | Scoop.it
An MX or "Peacekeeper" missile, left, and two versions of the Minuteman missile sit at the entrance of Warren Air Force base in 2001. (Michael Smiht/Getty Images)
There are all sorts of complicated issues coursing through the halls of Congress: Immigration reform. Healthcare. The new Supreme Court nominee.

And now: What to do with the hundreds of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles stored in Air Force bunkers.

One space company, Orbital ATK, wants to be able to buy parts of the Cold-War era nuclear arsenal, repurpose them to launch commercial satellites. That would give the dormant missiles a purposeful use, save taxpayer money and help U.S. industry compete against foreign launch companies, such as Russia, whose rockets are subsidized by the government, it argues.

But others, such as Virgin Galactic, fear putting the missiles to use would damage U.S. companies that have invested millions into developing their own rockets, effectively forcing them to compete against a taxpayer-subsidized rival.

Into the fray on Tuesday came U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) who floated another idea for the missiles at a congressional hearing: Why not use the ICBMs to launch the systems that could help clear up all the debris that’s floating around in space?

"We didn't build them because we wanted to drop nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union," he said. "We built them just in case there was a war. We didn't want that to happen."

Now the Cold War is over, and the missiles have sat idle in bunkers for years. So: "How about cleaning space debris?" Rohrabacher asked.

After 50 years of spaceflight, the vastness of space has become something of a celestial junkyard, littered with hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris. Traveling at 17,500 m.p.h. around the globe, even small pieces of debris, say a bolt, can cause big problems.

In 2007, China blew up one of its dead weather satellites, and then two years later, an active U.S. communications satellite crashed into a defunct Russian satellite. Those two events alone created thousands of pieces of debris, which now pose a threat to satellites and even the International Space Station, which occasionally has to move out the way of the flying junk.

Hollywood even dramatized the problem in “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.


A scene from the Warner Bros. thriller 'Gravity' starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
While Congress would have to act in order for Orbital ATK to use the stockpiled ICBMs for commercial purposes, the missiles could be used for government missions, Rohrabacher noted. And cleaning up space debris is a big issue the federal government should undertake, he said.

[Space companies feud over what to do with rockets in ICBM stockpile.]

Right now, the Air Force tracks some 20,000 items in debris, a fraction of what’s out there. But it’s working with Lockheed Martin to develop what’s known as the Space Fence, which would be able to track many more pieces of debris that are now too small to catalog.

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“One of our great assets is this new and thriving and futuristic space transportation systems that we now have being developed in the private sector,” he said. The government should be wary of doing anything that hurts the commercial space industry at a time when it is making great strides and helping lower the cost of access to space.

But he said he agreed that there should be some use for the ICBM motors, which taxpayers paid for years ago during the height of the Cold War.

For years, the space community has grappled with how to tackle the problem. There has been talk about “janitor satellites” that would act like an orbital garbage truck collecting debris. But such programs could be prohibitively expensive and legally complicated. The Chinese may not like it, for example, if the U.S. picked up one of its intelligence or military satellites, even if it were no longer working.

But if using the ICBMs to launch space-cleaning systems doesn’t work, Rohrabacher said he had another idea:

“How about global protection against meteorites and asteroids that might come and destroy the planet?”
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