Removing space debris from near-Earth space is an expensive and so far difficult to realize pleasure. Nathan Eismont, a leading researcher at the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said this in an interview with RT. Commenting on a recent report by Roskosmos that there are about 7,000 tons of space debris in Earth's orbit, Eismont told how a tracking system works in Russia, which makes spacecraft safe. According to the scientist, the volume of debris is growing and it becomes more difficult to avoid collisions. In his opinion, to solve this problem it is necessary to unite the forces of all space powers.
Roscosmos said that there is a huge amount of debris in near-earth orbit, more than 7 thousand tons. Why does it accumulate and how was it counted?
- After the launch of satellites, both the separated stages of the launch vehicles and the vehicles themselves appear in outer space. And if they are in a low orbit (400-500 km), then a rarefied atmosphere acts on them, as a result of which the vehicles descend and eventually burn out. However, not all of them are thus "inhibited" by the atmosphere, some remain in space for a long time. This is how space debris is formed. And you really need to do something with him.
Roscosmos named the figure at 7 thousand tons. However, it is important to take into account the size of the debris themselves. If you count the fragments larger than 10 cm, then there are about 25 thousand of them in space, and they are very dangerous for spacecraft.
How are space debris counted?
- In our country and in the United States, the military is engaged in tracking space debris. However, in America, in contrast to Russia, these data are published in the public domain, as catalogs of objects in near-earth space. The fragments are found and they are trying to identify, they are cataloged. All debris receive their numbers, which are used to track their orbits in the future. Thanks to this, it is predicted where the fragments will be. This data is updated every day.
What is the danger of space debris?
- For new spacecraft, fragments of spent vehicles are dangerous because collisions are possible. They can be calculated and predicted only if there is a dangerous approach to the vehicle (less than 1, 5 or even 5 km). In this case, you can perform an evasive maneuver. For this purpose, the satellites are equipped with special propulsion systems for orbital motion correction. Usually, such maneuvers are carried out to avoid collisions, but sometimes in geostationary orbit (about 36 thousand km above sea level - RT) it is difficult to track a huge number of vehicles.
For what volumes of debris is the orbit correction system designed for spacecraft?
- So far, she manages to cope with the debris located in outer space. There has never been such a thing that the apparatus did not have enough power to go around the wreckage. But, unfortunately, the amount of garbage is increasing from year to year, so in the future it will become much more difficult to deal with it.
In Russia there is an automated warning system for dangerous situations in near-earth space (ASPOS OKP). How does it function and does it cope with its responsibilities?
- The tasks of this system, which is part of Roskosmos, includes tracking Russian vehicles in order to ensure their safe operation. And she successfully copes with her functions. ASPOS OKP, along with military systems, systematizes and constantly monitors the wreckage.In this regard, we can rely on the fact that the characteristics of the ASPOS OKP will be further improved and it will help our spacecraft in tracking space debris.
Is it possible to finally get rid of space debris?
- Many scientists from both fundamental and applied sciences are engaged in this. A lot of people are trying to find a solution to the problem of space debris. But all of their ideas have a common flaw. It turned out that getting rid of space debris is an expensive and difficult to implement pleasure.
The most urgent solution at the moment is the removal of fragments using laser beams. These beams are directed from the appropriate vehicle onto the debris, resulting in partial evaporation. This creates a jet thrust, which leads to deceleration of the object and further de-orbit. However, there was no confirmation of this proposal in practice.
Other suggestions, as I mentioned, are too expensive. For example, one of them is a special apparatus with a harpoon for collecting fragments. It collects material and then sends it into the orbit of atmospheric entry.
We can say that the simplest way to deal with space debris at the moment is not to litter. This method, oddly enough, works. There are already ways to remove spent spacecraft, which are part of the debris that clogs near-earth space.
If a spacecraft is launched, then from the very beginning systems must be installed on it that will allow it to be removed from outer space. These devices are equipped with engines that, when the device expires, give a braking impulse, which translates the device onto the trajectory of entering the atmosphere. Another way is to send the device into a burial orbit where the spent objects are stored, but then we create a problem for future generations.
You can also send such devices into deep space. This can be a reliable way to solve this problem.
Are there any ideas to legally prohibit littering space?
- The ban on space debris has recently been dealt with. The first proposals came from the representatives of our country to the UN. There is a special committee COPUOS, which deals, among other things, with the problems of contamination of the near-earth space. It regulates the activities in outer space of the UN member states.
Russia's proposals to introduce rules on space debris were taken into account by this committee. One of the rules was: if a space object has worked out its own, then it can remain in outer space for no more than 12 years. After that, the country that owns the device must remove it from space. Another requirement: to remove the launch vehicle - the carrier of the spacecraft.
Countries are trying to follow these rules adopted at the United Nations level.
Could this debris pose a danger to the Earth?
- For the Earth, space debris does not pose the same danger as for spacecraft, with one exception. There are devices with nuclear reactors in outer space. They are in burial orbits, where they can be located for more than a hundred years. However, due to external factors, there is a possibility of their entry into the atmosphere, in which case there will be a danger to the Earth. There are suggestions on how to deal with these devices, but so far it is difficult to implement them.