17 April 2019
You might remember a few weeks ago I was talking about space junk? I included a photo of a chip taken out of one of the windows of the International Space Station. This was caused by a tiny flake of something (they think it might have been paint) that struck at about 26,000 kilometers per hour.
Well, in more recent news, India has demonstrated that it's now the fourth nation that has the ability to shoot down a satellite in low Earth orbit.
They did this using a kinetic strike, which is also known as "hit to kill". Simply put, all this involved was a well-aimed rocket that collided with the satellite, blasting it to pieces.
Hit-to-kill strikes are the same as any other collision, and are a source of dangerous space junk. According to the US Air Force Space Command, India's demonstration created more than 250 (some say 400, but it depends on the size we're tracking) pieces of dangerous space junk in low Earth orbit - which is exactly where the International Space Station travels.
(By the way, I don't know about you, but "Air Force Space Command" sounds like something out of a Manga film.)
Now, India has pointed out that the debris cause will fall harmlessly back towards Earth and burn up in the atmosphere within a few weeks. True, but there's a chance that one of those pieces will collide with something else during that time. Alternatively, are they sure that all the pieces are still in low Earth orbit?
Are we looking at the start of a runaway Kessler Syndrome?
There are no regulations in space - only "agreements". Really, there's nothing to stop a country from doing stuff that creates more space junk.
And when several countries have shot down satellites and turned low Earth orbit into a minefield, what happens to our GPS equipment? Our long distance phones? Our satellite TV? Our weather forecasts?
For NASA's take on space debris, check out https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/news/orbital_debris.html