Space Debris and the Battle for Space

By Gaziyev, Jamshid | UN Chronicle, March-June 2009 | Go to article overview

Space Debris and the Battle for Space


Gaziyev, Jamshid, UN Chronicle


On 10 February 2009, a decommissioned "Cosmos 2251" satellite and an operational "Iridium 33" satellite collided at an altitude of 790 km in low Earth orbit (LEO), a zone heavily populated by communications satellites. The collision created two distinct clouds of more than 800 pieces of space debris--man-made objects in orbit that no longer serve a useful purpose. It was the first collision of two intact spacecraft and the fourth known accidental hypervelocity collision caused by catalogued space debris.

You may wonder why the news about satellites fragmenting to space junk, a hundred kilometres away in outer space should be important to us. The brief answer is because we are enjoying space benefits every day here on Earth, whether we realize it or not. Contrary to common perceptions, most satellites in orbit look down to and cater for the Earth, rather than up to outer space. Thus, communications satellites have shrunk the planet to a "global village" through broadcasting telephone and television signals, providing internet linkages, and supporting financial transactions, no matter how remote. Global navigation satellites determine our exact location on Earth with an accuracy of up to a few metres and have now become ubiquitous in our lives, from aviation, geology, ground and maritime transportation, to architecture, car navigation and golf. Weather satellites prompt us every morning what to wear on a given day. Earth observation satellites bring enormous societal benefits through providing valuable data about the planet's ecosystem and producing the evidence necessary for informed decision-making. They also help us map places otherwise inaccessible to humans and facilitate relief efforts during disasters and other emergencies. In the aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Nargis in April 2008, relief efforts on the ground in Myanmar greatly benefitted from satellites in space, which restored vital communication links and produced space-derived imagery of the affected areas.

Space technology has become an indispensable part of the world's infrastructure, playing a crucial role in international development, security, and environmental monitoring and protection. Our dependence on satellites became evident in May 1998, when the malfunctioning of a single communications satellite resulted in 30 million pagers going silent, credit card payments failing, and some radio and television networks going off the air. According to the 1967 "Outer Space Treaty", outer space is legally "the province of all mankind". The continued ability of humankind to explore and use that province is vital to our way of life.

Around a thousand operational satellites of more than 40 countries are now orbiting around the Earth. Nearly eight dozen objects are launched into space every year. After serving humankind, all those satellites are doomed to die out and become space junk. Today's satellite is tomorrow's space debris. There are more than 300,000 pieces of space junk between 1 and 10 cm, and over 17,000 greater than 10 cm in diameter. In 2007 there was a 20 per cent increase in the number of traceable space debris. When the size and amount of this debris is calculated relative to the average velocity it travels (7-8 km/ sec), then one can imagine how both polluted and dangerous the space environment has become. While only 1 cm of debris moving at 10 km/sec (equivalent to the energy of a bowling ball hitting you at 520 km/sec) can cause catastrophic failure of an active satellite, metal junk of the size of an orange is as fatal as 25 sticks of dynamite. The threat of lethal impact from space debris is such that astronauts of the heavily shielded International Space Station (ISS) were forced to temporarily shelter in the Soyuz capsule on 12 March 2009, when a piece of debris 13 cm in diameter was belatedly projected to pass close to ISS. Now visualize the impact of the collision between the Cosmos (560kg) and the Iridium (900kg) satellites at a velocity of 11km/sec. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Space Debris and the Battle for Space
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.