Technology The US government logged 308,984 potential space-junk collisions in 2017 — and the problem could get much worse

01:31  17 april  2018
01:31  17 april  2018 Source:   Business Insider

After deadly crashes in Pacific, U.S. Navy refocuses on leadership

  After deadly crashes in Pacific, U.S. Navy refocuses on leadership <p>After a pair of crashes involving U.S. Navy ships in the Asia-Pacific killed more than a dozen people last year, the Navy's efforts to develop its leaders is receiving renewed attention.</p>Last week, the Navy inaugurated the College of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island.

But there are millions of small, hard-to-track bits of orbital debris that can collide with satellites. In 2017 , the US government logged 308 , 984 close calls with space junk and issued 655 "emergency-reportable" alerts to satellite operators.

If the space junk problem were to spiral out of control, one collision could beget other collisions , and in turn spread even more debris: a chain of crashes known as a Kessler event.


Diamonds From Outer Space Formed Inside a Long-Lost Planet

  Diamonds From Outer Space Formed Inside a Long-Lost Planet A gem-studded meteorite that fell in Sudan offers clues about the protoplanets that likely existed in our solar system's violent past.If humans could peer back in time, the solar system we call home would be unrecognizable during its first 10 million of existence. That's because astronomers think swarms of protoplanets — balls of gas, dust, and rock about the size of Mercury or Mars — once swirled around our young sun.

If the space junk problem were to spiral out of control, one collision could beget other collisions , and in turn spread even more debris: a chain of crashes known as a Kessler event.

If the space junk problem were to spiral out of control, one collision could beget other collisions , and in turn spread even more debris: a chain of crashes known as a Kessler event.

  • China's Tiangong-1 space station recently crashed to Earth as a giant chunk of space junk.
  • But there are millions of small, hard-to-track bits of orbital debris that can collide with satellites.
  • In 2017, the US government logged 308,984 close calls with space junk and issued 655 "emergency-reportable" alerts to satellite operators.
  • Alert systems help avoid a runaway space-junk disaster, a phenomenon called the Kessler syndrome that could dramatically reduce human access to space.

China's Tiangong-1 space station fell to Earth on April 2, raining debris over a patch of Pacific Ocean some 2,500 miles south of Hawaii.

But Tiangong-1 is just the tip of the space-junk iceberg.

There are about 23,000 satellites, rocket bodies, and other human-made objects larger than a softball in orbit. There may also be some 650,000 softball-to-fingernail-size objects and 170 million bits of debris smaller than the tip of a pen — stuff like flecks of paint and fragments of explosive bolts.

The US military will award $10 million to the company that can launch satellites on short notice

  The US military will award $10 million to the company that can launch satellites on short notice US military leaders are bullish about small satellites as tools to spy on adversaries and provide secure communications, but there’s just one problem: There isn’t…Inspired by NASA’s partnerships with rocket makers like SpaceX, the Pentagon is turning to private industry, as half a dozen companies, most backed by venture capitalists, are working to launch small satellites more cheaply than ever to meet the demands of a growing number of small-satellite startups.

If the space junk problem were to spiral out of control, one collision could beget other collisions , and in turn spread even more debris: a chain of crashes known as a Kessler event. © Provided by Business Insider Inc.

If the space junk problem were to spiral out of control, one collision could beget other collisions , and in turn spread even more debris: a chain of crashes known as a Kessler event.

There's a real risk that something may smash into something else up there, and it often does. Each piece of junk is screaming around our planet at roughly 17,500 mph, or 10 times faster than a bullet. Jack Bacon, a senior scientist at NASA in 2010, told Wired that a hit by a 10-centimeter sphere of aluminum would be akin to detonating 7 kilograms of TNT.

Avoiding such catastrophic collisions is vital to ensuring humans can still access space without have their hardware or spaceships whacked by debris.

With space exploration and commerce about to boom, it's more important than ever to keep track of all the junk.

Thankfully, the Space Surveillance Network (SSN) does just that.

Why space junk poses such a major threat

Led by the US military, the SSN uses an global network of partners to identify, track, and share information about objects in space — especially any potential close calls.

Whiteside goes at Spoelstra: 'Coach wants me to just be in a corner and set picks'

  Whiteside goes at Spoelstra: 'Coach wants me to just be in a corner and set picks' Things couldn't have gone any worse for Hassan Whiteside in the playoffs, but he somehow found a way.&nbsp;Things couldn't have gone any worse for Hassan Whiteside in the playoffs, but he somehow found a way.

SpaceX’s satellites could lead to more junk . SpaceX’s vice president of Satellite Government Affairs, Patricia Cooper, appears aware of the space debris problem and has publicly stated intentions to mitigate it — though no details have been provided.

One way to prevent space collisions is better traffic control. What's clear is that space is getting crowded, and the problem urgently needs attention from all spacefaring nations Can We Predict Solar Flares—And Protect Our Satellites ? Did the Soviets Actually Build a Better Space Shuttle?

"In 2017, we provided data for 308,984 events," Diana McKissock, a flight lead with the US Air Force's 18th Space Control Squadron, which helps track space debris for the SSN, previously told Business Insider.

The reason the SSN pays such close attention is that just one major collision can have huge ramifications. A crash would create even more debris, meaning there'd be a much greater chance of more collisions in the future.

There's even a hypothetical, scientifically plausible, spiraling-out-of-control scenario with space junk called the Kessler syndrome.

In a Kessler syndrome event, one collision begets other collisions, and quickly spreads debris in a catastrophic chain-reaction.

A Kessler syndrome event could create an Asteroid Belt-like field of debris in large regions of space around Earth. Those zones could wind up being too risky to fly new satellites or spaceships into for hundreds of years, which would severely limit human access to the final frontier.

A vivid example of the Kessler syndrome is in the movie "Gravity," in which an accidental space collision endangers a crew aboard a large space station.

Cambridge Analytica might have accessed private Facebook messages

  Cambridge Analytica might have accessed private Facebook messages Facebook just began notifying people if their information was accessed by Cambridge Analytica today. Soon after, the social media company created a Help Center page that you can check to see if you were one of the affected members who logged into quiz app This Is Your Digital Life. Apparently, doing so not only shared your News Feed, timeline and posts, but also your private messages. Facebook confirmed to Wired that the app used a read_mailbox permission, which, unlike other sensitive permissions that Facebook phased out a in April of 2015, didn't fully deprecate until October of that same year. Wired reports that while users would have needed to give their permission for the app (and hence Cambridge Analytica) to access their message inboxes, the request would have likely been hidden in with a bunch of other permission requests, which users may have missed when "agreeing" to share their data. Facebook says that a total of 1,500 people gave This Is Your Digital Life permission, though the total of actual users affected is unknown. The problem goes beyond those that granted permission to share; if you in some way messaged with any of those users, you might be also impacted.

Collisions between space debris and satellites threaten many of the systems we use in our daily If we could move the debris to a safe "graveyard" orbit, we would have a resource in space, ready for future pioneers to take advantage of. SEE ALSO: Space Junk Problem Reaches 'Tipping Point'.

Experts now speak of a collisional cascading effect in which the potential for future collisions between space junk could ramp up in an alarming way. What can be done to solve the problem of space debris?

How dangerous space junk is found and tracked

Most space junk is found in two regions above the surface of our planet: in low-Earth orbit (about 250 miles up) and geostationary orbit (about 22,300 miles up).

The SSN enlists the help of commercial companies and friendly governments around the world to keep tabs on it all. It uses about 30 different systems, and they come in four main flavors: satellites, optical telescopes, radar systems, and supercomputers.

The radar observatories can see things in space even when it's daylight, which is crucial for frequent, almost real-time tracking. In fact, just before Tiangong-1 fell to Earth, a radar observatory managed to image the plunging spacecraft in impressive detail.

Optical telescopes on the ground also keep an eye out, though they aren't always run by the government.

"The commercial sector is actually putting up lots and lots of telescopes," Jesse Gossner, an orbital-mechanics engineer who teaches at the US Air Force's Advanced Space Operations School, previously told Business Insider. The government then pays for their debris-tracking services.

Gossner said one major debris-tracking company is called Exoanalytic. It uses about 150 small telescopes set up around the globe to detect, follow, and report space debris to the SSN.

Rocket Lab just got another leg up on the race to launch tiny satellites

  Rocket Lab just got another leg up on the race to launch tiny satellites Space startup Rocket Lab and satellite builder York Space Systems inked a deal aimed at making small satellites launches cheaper and easier.York Space Systems announced Tuesday that it signed a contract with Rocket Lab, a California and New Zealand-based startup that aced its first-ever orbital launch in January. The companies plan to streamline and reduce the cost of getting a small satellite to space.

"The space junk problem has been getting worse every year," Ben Greene, head of Australia's Space Greene added in a statement that "a catastrophic avalanche of collisions which could quickly destroy all orbiting satellites is now possible", noting that more collisions were creating extra debris.

If the space junk problem were to spiral out of control, one collision could beget other collisions , and in turn spread even more debris: a chain of crashes known as a Kessler event.

Then there are the satellites in space that track debris. Presumably these are optical telescopes, though less is known about them because they typically have top-secret military hardware.

Observation data from these systems is fed to supercomputers, which help calculate an orbit and check against a catalog of known space debris and orbits. If there's no match, the object is flagged and added to a list.

Crucially, the SSN supercomputers constantly check the orbits of all satellites and known bits of space junk to see if there's any risk of future collision days in advance.

When the SSN warns the world about possible collisions

McKissock said the surveillance network issues two kinds of warnings to NASA, satellite companies, and other groups: basic and advanced.

The SSN issues a basic emergency report to the public three days ahead of a 1-in-10,000 chance of a collision. It then provides multiple updates per day until the risk of a collision passes.

To qualify for such reporting, a rogue object must come within a certain distance of another object. In low-Earth orbit, that distance must be less than 1 kilometer (0.62 mile); farther out in deep space, where the precision of orbits is less reliable, the distance is less than 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).

Advanced emergency reports are more conservative, with wider safety margins, to help satellite providers see possible collisions much more than three days ahead. Those are the roughly 300,000 events noted by McKissock.

Of these, "only 655 were emergency-reportable," she told Business Insider in an email.

Trump: Human trafficking 'worse than it's ever been in the history of the world'

  Trump: Human trafficking 'worse than it's ever been in the history of the world' President Trump said Thursday that human trafficking has reached record levels, telling reporters it is now "worse than it's ever been in the history of the world."In remarks to journalists during his tour of Joint Interagency Task Force South on Florida's Key West island, Trump remarked on the need for tougher immigration measures to stop human trafficking as well as the flow of drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border, according to pool re ports."Drugs are flowing into our country. We need border protection. We need the wall. We have to have the wall.

" We are very much concerned," said Rolf Densing, director of operations at the European Space Agency (ESA), pleading for a worldwide effort Krag pointed to two events that had badly worsened the problem , creating debris fields that may generate further junk as pieces smash into each other.

Apr 30, 2017 . Is Space Junk A Problem ? The existence of space junk is common knowledge, but what most people don’t know is that it’s becoming increasingly more problematic for us both in space and down on the ground.

And of those 655 reportable emergencies, some 579 close calls were in low-Earth orbit, an area that's relatively crowded with high-value satellites.

What satellite operators do if they get a collision alert

When a space company receives a SSN alert, they typically move their satellite into a different orbit — and out of harm's way — by burning a little propellant.

The biggest priority is avoiding damage to multi-million- or multi-billion-dollar satellites and keeping astronauts safe.

"It's just a matter of watching and, with our active satellites that we do control, avoiding collisions," Gossner said. "It becomes a very important problem not just for that satellite, but then for the debris that it would create."

Fortunately, McKissock added, "our everyday concern isn't something as catastrophic as the Kessler syndrome."

In Gossner's eyes, the best way to manage space junk isn't with high-tech space nets and other debris-catching technologies.

Instead, he says it's most effective to find debris, track it, alert parties about possible collisions, and make sure companies and governments can eventually de-orbit any new things they launch in a controlled way. (That way, they won't further contribute to the problem.)

For now, current tracking and warning efforts have led Gossner to believe we're not at risk of a Kessler event.

"I'm not saying we couldn't get there, and I'm not saying we don't need to be smart and manage the problem," he said. "But I don't see it ever becoming, anytime soon, an unmanageable problem."

NOW WATCH: There's a place at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean where hundreds of giant spacecraft go to die


NASA to make orbiting lunar base decision in early 2019 .
NASA's vision of missions to Mars is filled with baby steps, and expects to get a lot of help from private companies.&nbsp;One of the more significant steps will be the construction of an orbiting lunar base, and NASA said last week it's looking to award the first contract for that base to one of five companies as early as 2019.

—   Share news in the SOC. Networks

Topical videos:

This is interesting!