How to get rid of space waste
Friday 2nd February 2018
There is a growing amount of waste and debris in space, causing issues for both spacecrafts and astronauts. More than 7,000 satellites have been launched into space, however only 1,500 are currently active. This figure is set to rise in the next decade with the planned ‘mega-constellations’ being launched to improve internet coverage globally. The main issue with this waste is that collisions can cause lots of damage. For example, in 2016 a small fragment in space chipped a window on the International Space Station – posing a risk to those on board.
To combat this waste, a new spacecraft created by Surrey University will test clean up technologies in space early this year. The ‘RemoveDebris’ spacecraft will carry out a set of 4 experiments during its time in operation. One includes releasing its own space waste, then using a net to recapture it. Another will test if a harpoon can be an effective way to ‘grab’ waste in space.
Dr Hugh Lewis, senior lecturer in aerospace engineering at the University of Southampton, said: "For some people, space debris is one of these things that is out of sight, out of mind. But from my perspective it is one of the worst environmental catastrophes that we have encountered.”
One of the main concerns is that space could become inoperable. More waste could lead to more collisions and the possibility that some of our vital satellites for navigation or weather forecasting may be damaged. There is also uncertainty surrounding the potential environmental impacts this waste might be having on space.
It is hoped that this clear up mission will lead to further clean-up efforts internationally, as more begin to realize the significant problem it poses.
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