2019 has been the year of huge groups of satellites


The Economist – Now Villaina

By: Swapna Krishna

The year 2019 was marked by many accomplishments in space travel, as it were The first fully female mission to walk in space, By Christina Koch and Jessica Mir, a memorable and long-awaited event. Private space travel companies have also made great strides, from Blue Origin launched a landing craft on the moon, to me SpaceXper’s Starhopper Test, And the Rocket Lab, to launch small satellites To recover its missiles (And relaunch), which makes spaceflight more sustainable.

On human spaceflight, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, while we are still asking serious questions about Feasibility of the “Artemis Project”NASA’s plan to return to the moon’s surface by 2024. We will also remember in 2019 that we have made slow progress on this front, in addition to disappointments.Boeing” And”SpaceX“.

Outside of the United States, India has experienced success and failure to reach the Moon with unmanned missions, representing success in the great amount of work done on the flight, and the failure has been that the mission did not reach the Moon safely (although the Indian satellite did not go out About the service). As for the Japanese “Hayabusa2” spacecraft, it identified small projectiles on an asteroid and hit it to retrieve samples from below the surface. She is now on her way to Earth From that asteroid called “Ryojo”. As we are And let us the Opportunity spacecraft sent to Planet Mars. And who can forget the strange and confirmed prominent stations, such as Committing the first alleged crime in space, And anxiety caused by the presence of small objects called Undesirable “Tardigrades” on the Moon?

The 2019 controversy was a new type of race to space, and not only was the battle for supremacy between big private companies (such as billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson to a lesser degree) and other emerging space companies. A much smaller matter, satellite groups, is likely to have greater ramifications.

Existing companies and startups alike are beginning to focus on launching large networks of small satellites that are generally considered to be any satellite weighing less than 500 kilograms, and for comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope weighs more than 11,000 kilograms. These satellites are called metaphors, and they join most of the other satellites and the International Space Station in the Earth’s low orbit. These smaller satellites are less expensive, easier to manufacture than their larger counterparts, and are also less expensive to send to space. By working in coordination, it can cover a much larger portion of the Earth than typical satellites, making it ideal for the purposes of covering the globe with high-speed Internet access at reasonable prices.

A fast and affordable internet service to hard-to-reach areas is a great goal. This will provide people in rural and poor infrastructure with an affordable way to connect to the Internet and participate in the digital economy. In the United States, for example, Nearly 25 million people They are still unable to access broadband internet. And there is real competition in this area (I mean here the real target date), SpaceX has already launched the first group of satellites within a project called “Starlink”, and the proposed final number is 42 thousand satellites. Earlier this year, Blue Origin announced its intention to create its own set of satellites providing internet access (with more than 3,000 satellites), and OneWeb had already launched its first set of satellites, seeking to That the number of those satellites reaches about 2,500 satellites.

These small satellites will join an already busy orbital range. In March 2019, it was there Nearly 1,300 satellites are orbiting In Earth’s low orbit, along with thousands of pieces of space waste, such as idle satellites that were not removed from orbit, and other wastes including what was seen to be “An empty garbage bagThe idea of ​​sending so many satellites (which would double the number of existing satellites in effect by the end of 2020) is a real cause of concern for many in the space community.

SpaceX was the focus of this controversy in particular, in part due to the fact that its proposed set of satellites is very huge, along with anything that the company does that makes the headlines. “The SpaceX company is at the center of this debate, not only because it releases massive groups of planned satellites more quickly than others, but also because it launches a greater number,” said Laura Vorzek, the Astralytical Corporation involved in providing space consultancy services. Ten times more than a satellite within the “Starlink Project” compared to its competitors. Indeed, SpaceX is the easiest target for intense criticism, which bears the brunt of it, due to the huge regulatory problem, and Forzik adds: “There is a difference between dealing with a spill dripping against a spout that spills.”

Event The first ever collision between two satellites In 2009, that was between the Russian satellite for out-of-service communications and another American still in service (this collision is probably the first of many others given the extent of space congestion). SpaceX’s Starlink project satellites are equipped with collision detection software, but earlier this year, a Starlink satellite nearly collided with another European Space Agency in a game where this could happen. It is clear that the collision detection features were operating as expected, but SpaceX decided not to move the satellite, forcing the European Space Agency to take the necessary measures. If a satellite collides with something larger than the size of a ten cents, it could be badly damaged, and if it collides with something larger than a baseball, it is likely that, “said Brian Weiden, a space waste expert and director of the Program Planning Department at the Secure World Foundation. It is being seriously destroyed, forming thousands of new pieces. ”

This becomes more complicated when satellites go out of service and become pieces of waste. And SpaceX has a plan for that. Putting these satellites into more low orbit means that once they become disconnected, the Earth’s gravity will slowly pull them toward the surface, where they will burn almost entirely in the atmosphere after about five years. Every company planning to launch these types of satellites has a similar plan to get them out of orbit. But that doesn’t solve the massive size problem when these satellites work (And no one knows The environmental impacts that will result from the burning of thousands of small satellites in the atmosphere). The bottom line is that space is going to be crowded there.

Another problem is that the “Starlink Project” resulted in an immediate negative impact on Earth-based astronomy, although only a small number of the planned group has yet been launched. This group in particular showed more reflections than expected, and Vorzek noted that astronomers regularly strike a balance between planes and satellites in their observations. But the new satellite clusters made the problem much worse. “With the Starlink project, astronomers see more light bars than they used to, and are concerned about seeing a flood of those bars in the pictures they take in the future,” she said. In the screenshot below, you can see a snapshot taken at night at night, in which clear and bright light bars appear, these are the satellites of the Starlink Project.

She stated Gwen Shotwell, chief operating officer of SpaceX, told reporters that the company was working to solve the problem by using an anti-reflective coating that would make the satellites less bright in the sky at night. There is no guarantee that this solution will work, but Shotwell says they will “get it done.”

On the other hand, it was not impossible to foresee these problems, as astronomers cautioned about the impact of the “Starlink Project” on observation long before the first satellites were launched. But even if SpaceX and other companies want to advance their plans without paying enough attention or caution, satellite launches seem to be regulated, because the Earth’s low orbit is an international field anyway.

Currently, this regulation occurs at the national level (despite the cooperation of countries on issues such as the use of radio frequencies). Governments are responsible for regulating the activities of companies in space that operate and launch their satellites from within their borders, but this scheme is old Not sophisticated enough To regulate what private spaceflight companies actually do in orbit, that is, there are no specific systems in relation to space waste or groups of satellites, which leaves companies to organize that themselves. According to Lloyd, there is consensus among experts that the conditions for licensing satellites need to be changed, but unfortunately, we are not entirely sure how to deal with the problem, because they are fully integrated into the system, and not as a result of political changes in the prevailing situation. Consequently, until the space community and the institutions it organizes come up with something new, these problems will continue to accumulate.

2019 is likely to be remembered as the year when we really started understanding the costs of informal innovation. Let us make 2020 the year in which we tackle problems directly at the national and international levels. “The problem of space waste is more difficult,” says Vorzek. “It is similar to the suffering we are seeing here on Earth with regard to waste disposal. Future generations depend on us to solve these problems on and around the surface of the Earth.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here