ISS could be abandoned over hellish orbital junk problem, minister warns
A growing cloud of man-made junk threatens to trap humans destined for the International Space Station (ISS) on the Earth.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma has warned that new launches will not be possible and the ISS may have to be abandoned unless mankind finds a way to "clean up (its) act.”
Current estimates say there are around 160 million pieces of space junk in orbit around our planet, from entire “zombie” satellites down to most nuts and bolts and even tiny flecks of paint.
But because all of these objects are whizzing around the planet at 18,000mph, nearly seven times faster than a bullet, even the smallest of them could do untold damage to a spacecraft in the event of a collision.
“If we don’t take action now, low-Earth orbit could become too perilous for satellites or even humans on the International Space Station,” Mr Sharma said.
“The space debris expert Don Kessler predicted in 1976 that the space around the Earth could become so riddled with junk that launches would become impossible and vehicles that entered space would quickly be destroyed," he added.
“Anyone who watched Sandra Bullock defy the odds of survival in the blockbuster movie Gravity gets the idea.
“While we are all facing challenges here on Earth, this may seem like a problem that is best kept out of sight and out of mind, but there is a moral and economic imperative for us to do something about this space debris.
“If we want to continue to reach for the stars in the years to come and realise our ambitions to use satellite technology to improve lives on Earth, we need to clean up our act.”
NASA astronaut says we need a shield around the world, before it's too late
NASA experts say that if even a small piece of space junk were to hit a satellite, it could create enough shrapnel to start a chain reaction that could destroy all satellites and render space a no-go zone for centuries.
The nightmare scenario, which was fictionalised in 2013 blockbuster Gravity, could happen at any moment.
European Space Agency satellite controllers narrowly avoided major collision in 2019, when they had to activate ether manoeuvring thrusters of a satellite to prevent a collision with one of Elon Musk ’s £100 million Starlink craft.
Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “People probably do not realise just how cluttered space is.
"You would never let a car drive down a motorway full of broken glass and wreckage, and yet this is what satellites and the space station have to navigate every day in their orbital lanes.
“In this new age of space mega-constellations the UK has an unmissable opportunity to lead the way in monitoring and tackling this space junk.
“This funding will help us grasp this opportunity and in doing so create sought after expertise and new high skill jobs across the country.”
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