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Indian Intitute of Space Science and Technology


Assignment as part of CH311 Environmental Science and Engineering

Space Debris- An environmental problem for space missions

Submitted by

Shaifalee saxena

Space debris
Space debris is the collection of defunct man-made objects in space This includes everything from spent
rocket stages , old satellites , fragments from disintegration , erosion and collision. It is known as orbital
debris, space junk and space waste .More than 500,000 pieces of debris, or space junk, are tracked as they
orbit the Earth. They all travel at speeds up to 17,500 mph, fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital
debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft.

Elements of space debris

These are the main elements of space debris :

Figure 1. Elements of space debris

Deactivated Spacecraft
Spent rocket stages
Fragments of rockets and spacecraft and their instruments
Paint flakes
Engine exhaust particles
Spacecraft rocket separation devices

Spacecraft coverings
Spent Soviet reactors

Hazardous Interference by Space Debris

. Loss or damage to space assets through collision;
Accidental re-entry of space hardware;
Contamination by nuclear material of manned or unmanned spacecraft, both in space and on Earth;
Interference with astronomical observations, both from the ground and in space;
Interference with scientific and military experiments in space;
Potential military use.

Why is Space Debris dangerous?

If space users fail to act soon to re- duce their contribution to debris in space, orbital debris could
severely re- strict the use of some orbits within a dec- ade or two.
Orbital debris is a growing problem. Continuing steady growth of orbital debris could render Earth
orbits too risky to use.Debris can collide with both active and inactive satellites, damaging the active
satellites and producing more debris from both. Pollution in the form of gases and small particles
of rocket exhaust may erode and contaminate spacecraft surfaces. Debris may also interfere with
inspace and ground-based observations and experiments. International action will be needed to minimize the generation of new space debris and to cope with debris already in orbit.
Lack of adequate data on the orbital distribution and size of debris will continue to hamper efforts to
reduce the threat that debris poses to spacecraft.
The nature and extent of the hazard from smaller particles is highly uncertain. Reducing these
uncertainties to acceptable levels will require the development of devices capable of sensing and
cataloging smaller ob- jects, and sampling debris in orbit.Better orbital debris information will contribute to the development of more accurate predictive models for the evolution of space debris. These
data will also support efforts to develop debris reduction and spacecraft pro- tection techniques.
The presence of debris in low Earth orbits, where fast moving objects could pierce inhabited spacecraft such as the planned international space station, Freedom, and the Soviet space station Mir, is
especially troublesome because of the risk to human life.

The tiny paint chip that damaged the Shuttle Challengers windshield in 1983 is evidence of a large
population of very small particles.
The U.S. Space Surveillance Network, a department that tracks debris floating through space and
reports to NASA, observes over 13,000 man-made objects orbiting Earth larger than 4 inches in
diameter [source: National Geographic News]. That number has only been increasing, up from 9,000
objects in 2000. The organization estimates there are also millions of much smaller objects floating
around, and all of it combined weighs about 5,500 tons.
Many of these objects travel around the Earth at speeds more than 22,000 miles an hour. Anything
traveling at a velocity this high would cause a considerable amount of damage to a spacecraft if a
direct hit occurred. Even a tiny fleck of paint traveling at such a speed is capable of boring a quarterinch hole into the window of a space station.
As there are so many objects flying around up there, theres concern that collisions between debris
will only produce more fragments. Even if we stopped launching spacecraft right now and didnt send
a single object into orbit, the amount of debris in space would remain constant until 2055. After that,
things would actually get worse, because the amount of material already up there would inevitably
collide and create even more space junk.
Satellites in LEO(Low earth orbit) are in many different orbital planes providing global coverage and
15 orbits per day typical of LEO satellites result in frequent approaches between object pairs.After
space debris is created , the orbital planes direction will change over time , and thus collisions can
occur from virtually any direction . This leads to a cascading effect.

Space debris events

The space around Earth is a crowded space packed with nearly 22,000 spent rocket stages, dead or
dying satellites and countless crumbs of human-made orbital flotsam. An average of one object has
reentered Earths atmosphere every day.These space debris events happened till now Satellite Shootdown
Noggin Knocker
Mystery Ball(Austrailia)
Toxic Touchdown,1977
Desert Dropdown,2001
Columbia Debris,2003
Skylab Plummet
Sonic Snow

Russian heavyweight
Spare Space Parts

Tracking of debris
Radar and optical detectors such as LIDAR are the main tools used for tracking space debris.
Radio waves have been recently used. These waves are transmitted into space and they bounce off
of space junk back to the origin that will detect and track the object.
Ground based radar facilities and space telescopes are also used to track the debris.

Measurement of space debris

Tug-like satellites : The tug like satellites drag the debris to a safe altitude in order for it to burn up in
the atmosphere .It creates an electron emission to create a difference in potential between the debris
as negative and itself as positive .The satellite then uses its own thrusters to propel itself along with
the debris to a safer orbit .
Electro-dynamic tethers : An electro-dynamic tether provides a simple and reliable alternative to
the conventional rocket thrusters.It works on the basic principle of Lorentz force and Flemings Left
hand rule.Magnetic force is exerted on a current carrying wire in a direction perpendicular to both the
flow of current and the magnetic field .

Figure 2. Electro-dynamic tether []

Laser brooms : The laser broom uses a powerful ground based laser to ablate the front surface off
of debris and thereby produce a rocket like thrust that slows the object. With continued application
the debris will eventually decrease their altitude enough to become subject to atmospheric drag.

Additionally , the momentum of photons in the laser beam could be used to impart thrust on the debris
directly.The current technology used is the Hydrogen fluoride chemical energy powered laser.Although
this thrust would be tiny , it may be enough to move small debris into new orbits that do not intersect
those of working satellites.

Figure 3. Laser brooms[]

Solar sails : The Solar sails uses the pressure from sunlight to navigate an object, just like a naval
sail uses wind.This way debris can be navigated out of orbit and burn into the atmosphere.The only
problem with the solar sail is that its very hard to navigate the junk into the ocean and hence might be
pretty dangerous.

Figure 4. Solar sail []

Space nets : Space nets or umbrellas are satellites which eject a huge net that collects the debris
and is later disposed off into a graveyard orbit.

Figure 5. Space nets []

Collector satellites : It collects the debris in motion.The most commonly used collector satellite is
the Sling Sat.It has two extended arms which collect the debris as it is in motion.

Figure 6. Sling sat []

ISRO - Space debris

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) recognizes the importance of the current space debris
scenario, and the impact it has on the effective utilization of space technology for the improvement in
the quality of life on the Earth.ISRO successfully designed and developed a propellant venting system for
implementation in the existing upper stage of Indias Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which uses
Earth-storable liquid propellants. GSLV also employs passivation of the Cryogenic Upper Stage at the
end of its useful mission. ISRO developed its debris environmental models and software to predict the
close approach of any of the debris to the functional satellites. ISRO recognizes the role of international
cooperation in the debris mitigation measures and actively contributes to the efforts of the Inter-Agency
Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) and United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of
Outer Space (UNCOPUOS).
ISRO also organized National Conference on Space Debris Management and Mitigation Techniques.

The development of additional debris mitigation techniques could sharply reduce the growth of orbital
Space Debris has become the topic of big concern now-a-days. Space debris creation cant be
stopped completely, but it can be reduced by adopting some measures. Many methods of space
debris cleaning have been proposed earlier by many scientists, but some have limitations. After some
modification they can be beneficial in the process of space debris mitigation.
Existing international treaties and agreements are inadequate for mini- mizing the generation of orbital
debris or controlling its effects. An interna- tional treaty or agreement specifically devoted to orbital
debris maybe neces- sary.
For an international legal regime on orbital debris to be established, several legal issues, including the

definition of orbital debris, jurisdiction and control over orbital debris, and the treatment of liability for
damage from orbital debris, need to be resolved.
This space station was little more than a giant Orbital Denial Station. If those charges
were to detonate, the debris...any future space launch would be grounded for years.
It was a Scorched Space policy. If we cant have it, neither can anyone else.