Space Debris May Add Hidden Costs to Mission Shakti
Anti-satellite missile tests such as Operation Shakti may create more space debris, with India following in the dubious example set by the US, Russia, and China in the exacerbation of the situation.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the successful demonstration of India’s anti-satellite missile capability by the shooting down of a low-orbit satellite on Wednesday, there has been an explosive debate over the exercise. However, we’re not here to get political; instead, let’s talks about science.
The thing is, while firing an anti-satellite missile and bringing down an unoffending orbital object vaguely makes for good optics, it definitely makes for bad physics. The amount of space litter orbiting terra firma is literally running out of space to orbit.
And space garbage is a clear and present danger to our lives, as opposed to terrestrial garbage, which will mostly ruin our grandkids’ lives. The European Space Agency said that, as of January 2018, there are about 29,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters, around 750,000 objects that range between 1 cm to 10 cm and about 166 million objects between 1 mm to 1 cm in size. That’s a lot of zeroes; that’s a lot of garbage.
If any two of those infinitesimal objects happen to collide, it could have a domino effect with the number of collisions increasing exponentially. And given that these pieces orbit the planet at a speed of more than 8 kilometers per second, even a marble-sized hunk of space trash could knock a satellite out of the sky. This, in turn, would cause more collisions, leading to more satellites going down, in a phenomenon known as the Kessler Syndrome, essentially meaning no more Google Maps. The horror.
Of course, a host of other technological necessities that we take for granted will also be indefinitely out of commission, but Google Maps being no longer unavailable probably hits closest to home for most of us, provided that we can even find our way back there.
You can check out a succinct video explainer below (the animation helps temper the terror):
Indeed, the proliferation of space junk has reached to the extent that companies and governments from countries including those in the U.S., Japan, Singapore and the UK, have just raised a $103 million in funding to finance a major clean-up operation to avoid the global fallout as a result of the Kessler Syndrome.
Meanwhile, anti-satellite missile tests such as Operation Shakti might just create more space debris, with India following in the example set by the US, Russia, and China, leading to an exacerbation of the situation. As summarized by a report in the Independent, our closest rival, China, conducted its own first successful anti-satellite test in 2007, which led to condemnation from other world powers. The US and Russia have both tested similar technology in the 1980s, though the former ceased its anti-satellite tests in 1985, citing concerns over the creation of more space debris.
As noted by NASA, China's 2007 anti-satellite test, which used a missile to destroy an old weather satellite, added more than 3,000 pieces to the debris.
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