Recent near-collisions of the Starlink satellite with China’s space station have prompted conversation of accumulation of space debris in Earth’s orbit.
China’s Tiangong Space Station took evasive manoeuvre actions on two occasions to avoid collision when Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites came dangerously too close. In December, China lodged a formal complaint with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), citing the same reason.
In November, SpaceX Starlink internet satellites also dodged debris from Russia’s anti-satellite missile test to avoid in-orbit collisions.
Traditional communications satellites operate at an altitude of 35,786 kilometres in Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO). But over the last few years, the Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) satellites have taken over the skies, which operate at 500 kilometres to 2,000 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. LEO is becoming increasingly crowded due to increased satellites, raising the risk of collisions.
The major contributor of space debris is nonfunctional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris, explosions in orbit. Russia and its commonwealth allies currently have the most space junk circulating space, with the US, China, France and India following closely.
Increasing space debris may lead to Kessler Syndrome. Kessler Syndrome is a phenomenon where the space junk around Earth’s orbit will reach a point where more and more debris will collide with each other leading to more significant problems eventually making the Earth’s orbit challenging to use. It may pose issues for satellites, mission planners and astronauts, including disrupting critical functions such as communication, climate monitoring and remote sensing.
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Source : BBC