Tuesday, February 06, 2007

China fails to pick up its Space Junk

China's recent destruction of a satellite with space weaponry has produced more space junk for all. I discussed this issue in a previous note last year (The sky is not falling - orbital debris threatens satellites) based on an interesting article in Science describing the threat to orbital facilities - communications satellites, weather satellites, telescopes and space stations - from space debris. The debris comes from pieces of the spacecraft breaking apart, from collisions and from old spacecraft themselves.

One of the authors of the Science article, Nicholas L. Johnson, chief scientist for orbital debris at NASA, recapitulates his advice for dealing with the problem. He suggests deorbiting old satellites or destroying debris with ground based lasers and implicitly adds a new suggestion - don't actively blow up or test weapons that create large amounts of debris. The fear is that enough debris will create a chain reaction and destruction as impacts break apart satellites and add to the debris field, creating more impacts, etc.

The graphics produced by the New York Times to illustrate the danger are what I would have produced with the satellite data from the Union of Concerned Scientists from this post combined with the debris data from above if I had the infinite time and resources that they have (only in comparison to me). The charts are informative. I like to think that my approach preserved more scientific information about the orbits while the NYT's approach was prettier.

Now that the Chinese have blown up a whole satellite, it seems silly to worry about that golf ball in orbit stunt now doesn't it?

I must also mention the deleterious effect this worrying about space debris is already having on the astronaut corps.

(NYT article found by Slashdot)

(alternative post title - Whatcha gonna do with all that Space Junk? All that Space junk inside your trunk. )

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