Incoming! SpaceX Falcon 9 Stage Heads for Crash on the Moon

A high-definition image of the Mars Australe lava plain on the Moon taken by Japan’s Kaguya lunar orbiter in November 2007. (Credit: JAXA/NHK)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The Moon is set to gain one more crater. A leftover SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage will impact the lunar surface in early March, marking the first time that a human-made debris item unintentionally reaches our natural satellite.

In 2015 the Falcon 9 placed NOAA’s DSCOVR climate observatory around the L1 Lagrange point, one of five such gravitationally-stable points between Earth and the Sun. Having reached L1, around 1.5 million km from Earth, the mission’s upper stage ended up pointed away from Earth into interplanetary space.

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When Debris Disaster Strikes in Earth Orbit

Credit: ESA

In brief

PARIS (ESA PR) — In 2021 so far, some 2467 new objects large enough to be tracked have been added to world catalogues of orbital objects, out of which 1493 are new satellites and the rest are debris. While new objects are added, others are dragged down to Earth by the atmosphere where they safely burn up, resulting in a net increase of at least 1387 trackable objects between 2020 and 2021.

In addition, an estimated 1500 new objects – an increase of about 5% with respect to the total population – were added just this week, meaning the risk to missions must be reassessed.

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The Current State of Space Debris

Debris and defunct launcher stages in the Geostationary ring. Aging satellites are known to release debris and explosions can occur due to residual energy sources. The resulting fragments can be thrown back and cross the Geostationary orbit. For this reason it’s fundamental to release residual energy once the nominal mission is completed. (Credit: ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Swirling fragments of past space endeavours are trapped in orbit around Earth, threatening our future in space. Over time, the number, mass and area of these debris objects grows steadily, boosting the risk to functioning satellites.

ESA’s Space Debris Office constantly monitors this ever-evolving debris situation, and every year publishes a report on the current state of the debris environment.

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