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CubeSat craze could create space debris catastrophe

CubeSat craze could create space debris catastrophe

Small but deadly (Image: NASA)
Small but deadly (Image: NASA)

SWARMS go up and they don't come down. Tiny, cheap CubeSats are becoming an increasing danger in space. The mini-satellites could cause catastrophic collisions with larger craft, threatening to produce orbiting blizzards of space debris like those in the movie Gravity.

CubeSats measure just 10 centimetres on a side and weigh a maximum of 1.3 kilograms. The satellites can easily launch on multiple types of rockets or from the International Space Station (ISS). This gives students and hobbyists the opportunity to do real space science.

But the more hardware there is in space, the greater the chance of collisions. To mitigate these risks, CubeSats are supposed to come down within 25 years. However, there is no enforcement of this rule.

"Some CubeSat operators are knowingly putting their craft into orbits that will last much longer than 25 years, with some as long as a hundred years," says Hugh Lewis at the University of Southampton in the UK, who will spell out the burgeoning risks at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, Canada, on 29 September.

 

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September 28, 2014


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