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Managing Orbital Debris and Space Traffic

Managing Orbital Debris and Space Traffic

Just as weather affects our daily lives, so does Earth's orbiting junkyard. The detrimental effects of space junk grow worse each year, putting our daily lives and national infrastructures increasingly at risk as our communications, science and security networks rely ever more heavily on the interconnected system of satellites orbiting the skies.
Just as weather affects our daily lives, so does Earth's orbiting junkyard. The detrimental effects of space junk grow worse each year, putting our daily lives and national infrastructures increasingly at risk as our communications, science and security networks rely ever more heavily on the interconnected system of satellites orbiting the skies.

Those familiar with air traffic management architectures understand the constraints of aircraft flying in the atmosphere, vehicle dynamics and command and control techniques. Unfortunately, compared to air traffic, space traffic has many more degrees of freedom and much less control capability. Add to this the completely uncontrolled nature of space debris and the reality that most debris objects cannot be tracked and motion cannot be accurately measured or simulated.

In fact, orbiting debris is a product of negligence.

Over the first 50 years of space flight, mission plans ended with the completion of planned in-space operations. Satellites were shut down and left in their orbits, subject to natural influences.

Little thought was given to any collateral effects of objects "adrift" in space, because "space" was thought of as "big." An analogy might be the ocean disposal of waste items, where junk gets lost in the vastness of the seas, either by sinking to the bottom or by simply drifting with ocean currents.

 

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September 28, 2014


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