Trash in Space

casey-horner-778570-unsplashPhoto by Casey Horner on Unsplash

You might remember my last blog post about amazon and the issue of generating trash through our consumption behavior. So, I think this topic makes a perfect sequel for my last post. We not just have to deal with our trash on earth. We also have to deal with it in space.

I came across the topic several weeks ago when I was sitting in a doctors practice waiting for my appointment. In the morning of that day I was wondering what topic I wanted to write about in my next my blog post.

The answer came to me in form of a Swiss travel magazine called Transhelvetica. The topic of that issue was interestingly enough called “Space”. As I am highly interested in that field since I was a kid, it caught my attention right away. Especially one article opened my eyes. The article dealt with Swiss researchers who want to invent an efficient technique to catch trash in space.

There is trash in space?

Unfortunately, yes. Since we started actively exploring space, starting with the Sputnik satellite in 1957, we generated a massive loud of trash or in technical term debris in space. They range from old satellites, spent rocket stages to fragments from their disintegration and collisions.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the many satellites which are out of use? If the satellite is lower in earth orbit the last fuel (I also didn’t know that satellites have fuel) is used to slow down the satellite until it falls out of the orbit and finally is burned in the atmosphere. If the orbit is higher than even less fuel is needed to blast the satellite further into space to the so-called “graveyard orbit”. You get the main idea here.

Here are some numbers of debris from 2016:

  • Debris larger than 10 cm approx. 18.000
  • Debris between 1-10 cm approx. 670.000
  • Debris smaller than 1 cm 170 Mio (not so much a problem on earth but for the ISS and satellites up there)

Honestly, I am quite shocked by these numbers. They make me think about all the amount of trash that we generated and which we are not even aware of. Which is not addressed or spoken about in public. I feel overwhelmed by not only taking actions to deal with environmental issues on the planet but also facing issues which feels so out of reach for my little impact.

But before I get mad and desperate I want to take a look at ideas which are already in the draws of smart scientists. I want to know if we can work this out or if we will find the night sky covered in moving debris instead of stars one day.

After a bit of research in the net I found a quite recent news about a British debris-hunting satellite (largest satellite ever deployed with 100kg weight)which was deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) in last summer and is equipped with a harpoon, a debris net and targeting software. The company which developed this satellite is Surry Satellite Technology Ltd. in collaboration with the Surey Space Center. The harpoon was successfully tested on February 8th, 2019. You can watch a short video of the test.

I am now a bit surprised that just a few days ago they executed the test. If I would have tried to finish this post in January this great news would have been missing. Reminds me of great synchronicities in life.

On the one side I feel quite proud to see that things are moving forward. On the other side we have to speed up a bit with our attempts as our demand for more telecommunication services and therefore more satellites is increasing. And let’s not forget the space agencies, which are also still active, want to shoot new equipment up into the unknown.

I really hope that we take this issue seriously and maybe it helps us to remember where we are coming from or with Mr. Carl Sagan’s words “We are made out of star stuff”.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to get out in a clear night to watch the magnificent stars as long as we can see them 😉