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Thursday 13 May 2021

Some 7,000 T of Space Debris in the Earth’s Orbits


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BAIKONUR (Satrapia) — About 3,000 tonnes of operating vehicles and about 7,000 tonnes of space debris are in the Earth’s orbits, Head of the information and analytical centre at Central Research Institute of Machine Building at the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) Igor Bakaras said in an interview with TASS.

Bakaras defines space debris as all artificial objects and their fragments in space that do not function and will never be able to serve useful purposes, while being a dangerous factor affecting operating spacecraft. According to him, there are currently about 7,000 tonnes of space debris and 3,000 tonnes of operating spacecraft, including the International Space Station (ISS), in low Earth orbit (LEO, <2,000𠋿km). “On the basis of statistical estimates, it was concluded that the total number of objects of this kind (more than 1𠋿cm in size) is quite uncertain and can reach from hundreds of thousands to a million”, Bakaras said, adding that less than 5% of these objects are found, tracked, and catalogued by ground-based radar and optical means.

The issue of near-Earth space contamination by “space debris” as a purely theoretical one arose right after the launches of the first artificial satellites in the late fifties. On the international scene it gained an official status after the report of the UN Secretary General named Environmental Impact of Space Activities, dated December 10, 1993, where it was stressed that the problem has an international, global character: there is no contamination of the national near-Earth space, there is contamination of the Earth’s space, equally negatively affecting all countries.

The need for measures to reduce the man-made contamination of space becomes clear when considering possible scenarios for space exploration in the future. There is a “cascade effect”, which in the medium term may arise from the mutual collision of objects and space debris particles. Under extrapolation of existing conditions of LEO debris, even taking into account measures for future reduction of orbital explosions (42 % of all space debris) and other measures to reduce man-made debris, this effect may in the long term lead to catastrophic growth of orbital debris objects in LEO and, as a consequence, to practical impossibility of further space exploitation. It is assumed that after 2055, the process of self-replication of the remnants of space activities will become a major issue.

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