Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Space Junk & Rubbish

With the development of new technologies our space exploration goes further and is more sophisticated. 60 years of space exploration and it's still exciting! We've been to the moon and we've (a space rover) made it to Mars!  

As humans we have occupied earth for quite a few hundreds of years now. As our technology progressed, we've polluted it, abused it, made resources scarce and eradicated a variety of species of animals and plant life.  Now the same is happening to the lower-orbit atmosphere encircling the earth.  Long after missions were complete, debris and redundant technology has been left behind.  Houston, we have a Space Junk problem!

Computer Generated Image of current, tracked space junk according to NASA

Old, decommissioned satellites still remain "out there".  Parts of rockets that needed to be discarded to propel them to get to the moon are still hanging around.  These materials are moving at fast speeds of  "several kilometres per second" that they are colliding with each other and breaking larger items into smaller pieces.

Apart from the clutter, we're now seeing a downside to all this space littering we around the world have been doing. (see list of agencies and countries involved with space exploration and launching

These fast moving pieces also now pose a threat to existing and new space launches and missions.  There is so much space junk out in the Earth's immediate space that NASA established an Orbital Debris Program Office.  Conferences and meetings have taken place to collaborate and work out ways to avoid the space rubbish when new rockets/satellites are launched but also to reduce the amount of rubbish generated and left behind.  It's quite sad that something most of us will never get to experience or see is already quite trashed and polluted.

We fund missions to the International Space Centre, to the Moon, to Mars and other planets, but is there enough funding (or the technology) to bring launchers, rockets and rovers back to earth?  I wonder where the parachute used to land the Curiosity Rover on Mars has gone?  What will happen to the Curiosity Rover when its mission has been completed?

Planning for "active debris removal" is happening. Space and satellite agencies are now developing technologies for space garbo's* such as; robotic hooks, harpoons and clamps, in the hope to capture and/or return this junk back into the earths atmosphere (where some of it will burn up). 

Let's hope we can get some good ideas happening and tidy things up. Any volunteers for Clean up Atmosphere Day?

* - To be used colloquially. I don't mean any harm or to detract from what needs to happen.

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