Earth’s orbit is becoming less and less safe because too many satellites are operating, like a highway during rush hour and all the cars are going fast.
Ten years ago, there were only about a thousand satellites around the Earth. But in 10 years, perhaps tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of satellites will be flying around the blue planet.
For years, experts have been warning that Earth’s orbit is becoming too crowded. So how many satellites can humans launch before things get dangerous?
Old satellites make the space around Earth cramped.
Old satellites make the space around Earth cramped. (Photo: ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL).
“It will be like a highway during rush hour, in a snowstorm, and everyone is driving too fast. But the difference is there will be multiple highways intersecting with no traffic lights.”Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, describes the situation in orbit if plans for giant satellite networks from SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon come to fruition.
“The total number of conjunctions in 2022 is expected to be 134% higher than in 2020 and 58% higher than in 2021, exceeding 4 million”said Hugh Lewis, professor of astronautics at the University of Southhampton.
According to information that billionaire Elon Musk’s company SpaceX submitted to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last December, SpaceX’s automatic collision avoidance system performed 26,037 collision avoidance maneuvers. on-orbit collisions for Starlink satellites for two years, starting December 1, 2020. – November 30, 2022. This means that each of the nearly 4,000 Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX to date has performed an average of 12 avoidance maneuvers collision.
However, the current number of Starlinks is still less than 10% of the level SpaceX plans to deploy. Over the next 10 years, the number of Starlink satellites in orbit could reach 42,000. In addition, according to OneWeb’s plan, there will be 4,000 additional satellites in space, 3,200 Kuiper satellites from Amazon and 13,000 satellites of the Chinese Guowang system.
According to FCC documents, SpaceX claims that each of its satellites has enough fuel to perform 350 collision avoidance maneuvers over an expected lifespan of five years. But Lewis calculates that this level of 350 can be reached very soon, before these satellites reach the end of their lifespan.
Active satellites are only part of the problem. The European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that near-Earth space contains approximately 36,500 pieces of space debris larger than 10 cm, approximately 1,000,000 pieces of space debris between 1 and 10 cm, and 130 items of space debris larger than 10 cm. . 1 cm. Even the number of small pieces continues to increase as large objects collide with each other at high speed and break apart.
A batch of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites is about to be deployed into orbit.
A batch of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites is preparing to be deployed into orbit. (Photo: SpaceX).
So how many satellites can Earth’s orbit accommodate and still be safe? The answer is not simple. Lewis said: Some orbital altitudes are more vulnerable than others.
For example, the Starlink satellite operates at an altitude of 550 km. Objects at this altitude generally don’t wander through space for too long after they stop functioning. Even if the propulsion system is broken, unable to send them into the atmosphere and burn up, they will naturally lower their orbit within a few years due to the attraction of the atmosphere.
However, the possibility “empty the trash” This naturally decreases as altitude increases. “Above 1,000 km altitude, the atmosphere cannot do much because it is too thin”, explains Lewis. OneWeb’s satellite network operates in this altitude range, in addition to the company’s smaller Globalstar network.
Most companies operating satellite networks commit to ensuring that their satellites have enough fuel to dive into the Earth’s atmosphere at the end of their mission. However, the possibility of technical problems still worries experts. In 2012, ESA was unable to remove the 8-ton Earth observation satellite Envisat from its 772 km-high orbit as planned. It is currently one of the most dangerous pieces of space junk and will continue to fly around the blue planet for centuries.
“In 5 or 10 years, we will have around 20,000 to 100,000 satellites. With 100,000, I very much doubt that everything will be able to operate safely.”McDowell shared.
Article source: VnExpress
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Earth’s orbit is gradually becoming less safe as many satellites are operating, it’s like a highway during rush hour and every car is going fast. 10 years ago, just…