Space, The Final Congestion Frontier?

Space -  The Final (Congestion) Frontier

Many of us on Earth are familiar with the joy accompanying inching along roads in traffic jams or circling airports as we wait to land in our assigned landing slots. Marine harbours and shipping lanes also have times when the number of vessels exceed their capacity.

Just as the Earth’s resources are limited relative to the demands we put on it the space enabling near Earth orbitals* is a lot scarcer resource than the infinity of true outer space. There are already lots of working and defunct satellites along with orbiting debris from launches and other activity.

In this context it is good to hear of work to remove space debris with NASA’s DART project, ESA’s Clearspace contract and others as well as that the intriguing Peter Beck’s Rocket Lab (nor any copycats) has not launched any more highly reflective ‘disco balls’. The impact of increasing satellites adds another element damaging the Dark Sky resource (we note that SpaceX is attempting to mitigate the impact of it Constellation satellites on the Earth’s dark skies^ so time will tell whether S.O.S {Save Our Skies} calls have been heeded).

Let’s ensure that we don’t repeat the same tyranny of the commons mistakes in space that we have made on our (still) beautiful pale blue dot and instead apply lessons learnt in other resource areas. After all to paraphrase Einstein doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insane and gives us further cause to question whether we should refer to ourselves as “wise apes” (Rufus Hound, a British comedian, has said we might be better characterized as just apes in shoes … and now in astronaut suits).

Oh … and why is Kessler relevant? Well, per the Starset Society article linked to below, in 1978 NASA engineer Donald Kessler described a situation where the more bodies that are in orbit around the Earth, the more likely there will be a collision. “If that collision were to happen in a sufficiently crowded orbital path, the chain reaction of collisions could radiate outward, poisoning other orbital paths. If that were to occur, access to space could potentially be cut off. It will not simply be a matter of difficult launches but, rather, a complete blocking of all possible launch points”. This has become known as the Kessler Syndrome, referenced in the film “Gravity”.

QUOTES

“The biggest mission-ending risk to operational spacecraft comes from small, millimeter-size orbital debris, not big fat objects,”

Jer Chyi “JC” Liou, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris at Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Some related links to the Starset Society article and other subject-related podcasts are below:

  • Starset Society article on crowded orbits, space debris and cleaning it up here
  • Space Nuts podcast talking about the implications of satellites on our Dark Skies resource and SpaceX’s efforts to mitigate their impact.
  • Naked Scientists discussing the impact of satellite fleets here
  • Space Boffins podcast on harpooning satellites so they can be de-orbitted here (c12 min. in)
  • NASA discusses how the world’s largest gun is helping understand the dangers to satellites here
  • Moonshoot podcast on the challenges of cleaning up space here

 

^A link to the International Dark Sky Organisation that aims to preserve the ability to observe our numinous nighttime sky is here

* not to be confused with Near Earth Objects – that class of asteroids that approach Earth and the subject of our “Ignorance Is Not Bliss” designs)

Lets us know if you have other podcast, Youtube, website or other links on the subject that you would like to share with other interested people at contact@alltheus.com