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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ESA’s Solar Orbiter to Make Agency’s Riskiest Flyby

Artist’s impression of Solar Orbiter making a flyby at Earth. (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

In brief

PARIS (ESA PR) — The chance that ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft will encounter space debris during its upcoming Earth flyby is very, very low. However, the risk is not zero and is greater than any other flyby ESA has performed. That there is this risk at all highlights the mess we’ve made of space – and why we need to take action to clean up after ourselves.

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Astroscale Closes Its Largest Funding Round to Date, Bringing Total Capital Raised to U.S. $300 Million

Additional U.S. $109 million in capital will accelerate on-orbit services technology development, facility expansion and global hiring.

TOKYO, Nov. 25, 2021 (Astroscale PR) – Astroscale Holdings Inc. (“Astroscale”), the market leader in satellite servicing and long-term orbital sustainability across all orbits, today announced it closed its Series F round with additional funding of U.S. $109 million from a group of new investors led by THE FUND Limited Partnership in Japan, with participation from international investors including Seraphim Space Investment Trust plc (“Seraphim Space”) in the United Kingdom and DNCA Invest Beyond Global Leaders, a sub-fund of the umbrella structured fund “DNCA Invest” incorporated under the laws of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, managed by DNCA Finance, a Limited Partnership in France. This is the largest funding round in the company’s history and brings the total amount raised to U.S. $300 million, affirming investors’ confidence in the rapidly expanding on-orbit servicing market.

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Expert on Space Junk: When Spacecraft Explode, Answers May be in the Debris Left Behind

Carolin Frueh, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, enjoys solving math problems that just keep getting harder the more that she discovers about how space junk behaves. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (Purdue University PR) — Much of the space junk orbiting Earth won’t clean up itself – or tell you how it got there.

Purdue University’s Carolin Frueh and her team are investigating what causes spacecraft to become space junk. Their findings are revealing ways to prevent spacecraft from breaking apart into thousands of pieces of debris that pose a threat to space stations and satellites.

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European Union Commissioner, Secure World Foundation Condemn Russian ASAT Test

Thierry Breton
European Union Commissioner for Internal Market

As the European Union Commissioner in charge of EU Space policy and in particular of Galileo & Copernicus, I join the strongest condemnations expressed against the test conducted by Russia on Monday 15 Nov., which led to the destruction of a satellite in low orbit (COSMOS 1408).

This anti-satellite weapon test has caused the generation of a significant amount of debris of a size that could endanger the European Union’s space activities as well as those of our Member States.

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Russian Defense Ministry Boasts of ASAT Accuracy, Dismisses Orbital Debris Risk & Blames United States for Militarizing Space

Location of the 24,000 debris larger than 10 cm in low orbit in 2020. (Credits: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite condemnation from Western governments, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu seemed rather pleased with the results of an anti-missile test (ASAT) test that destroyed a defunct Soviet satellite, scattered more than 1,500 pieces of debris in Earth orbit, and endangered the seven-member crew of the International Space Station (ISS). TASS reports:

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In Wake of ASAT Test, Roscosmos Says it’s in Favor of Space Safety

Russia broke its silence on Tuesday after the country’s military destroyed a non-functional satellite and sent cosmonauts and astronauts scrambling to the safety of vehicles that would take them back to Earth as the International Space Station flew near a cloud of debris.

While the Ministry of Defense boasted about the test’s accuracy, downplayed the dangers and accused the United States of ratcheting up military tensions in space, Roscosmos published a bland statement that basically said: Space safety? We’re in favor of it!

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USSPACECOM: Russian Direct-ascent Anti-satellite Missile Test Creates Significant, Long-lasting Space Debris

PETERSON SPACE FORCE BASE, Colo.  (U.S. Space Command PR) –  Russia tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile on Nov. 15, 2021, Moscow Standard Time, that struck a Russian satellite [COSMOS 1408] and created a debris field in low-Earth orbit. The test so far has generated more than 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and will likely generate hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris.

“Russia has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the security, safety, stability, and long-term sustainability of the space domain for all nations,” said U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command commander. “The debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers. Space activities underpin our way of life and this kind of behavior is simply irresponsible.”

USSPACECOM’s initial assessment is that the debris will remain in orbit for years and potentially for decades, posing a significant risk to the crew on the International Space Station and other human spaceflight activities, as well as multiple countries’ satellites. USSPACECOM continues to monitor the trajectory of the debris and will work to ensure all space-faring nations have the information necessary to safeguard their on-orbit activities if impacted by the debris cloud, a service the United States provides to the world, to include Russia and China.

“Russia is developing and deploying capabilities to actively deny access to and use of  space by the United States and its allies and partners,” Dickinson added. “Russia’s tests of direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons clearly demonstrate that Russia continues to pursue counterspace weapon systems that undermine strategic stability and pose a threat to all nations.”

NASA Administrator Nelson Condemns Russian ASAT Test, Decries Danger to ISS Crew

Bill Nelson

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — On Monday Moscow Standard Time, the International Space Station (ISS) Flight Control team was notified of indications of a satellite breakup that may create sufficient debris to pose a conjunction threat to the station. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson released the following statement about the incident:

“Earlier today, due to the debris generated by the destructive Russian Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test, ISS astronauts and cosmonauts undertook emergency procedures for safety.

“Like Secretary Blinken, I’m outraged by this irresponsible and destabilizing action. With its long and storied history in human spaceflight, it is unthinkable that Russia would endanger not only the American and international partner astronauts on the ISS, but also their own cosmonauts. Their actions are reckless and dangerous, threatening as well the Chinese space station and the taikonauts on board.

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Russia ASAT Test Destroys Old Satellite; ISS Crew Shelter in Return Capsules as Station Flies Near Orbital Debris

The scales of the space debris problem (Credit: ESA)

Updated on Nov. 15 at 4:35 PST with comments by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States has condemned a Russian anti-satellite test that destroyed a non-functioning 39-Soviet-era satellite that added more dangerous debris to Earth orbit.

“Earlier today, the Russian Federation recklessly conducted a destructive satellite test of a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile against one of its own satellites,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “The test has so far generated over 1,500 pieces of trackable orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris that now threaten the interests of all nations.

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Net Zero Space Declaration Nets 11 Signatories

The scales of the space debris problem (Credit: ESA)

Eleven space stakeholders have pledged themselves to avoiding the future generation of space debris and remediating the junk that is already clogging up Earth orbit by signing the Net Zero Space Declaration last week.

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Like a Tow-hook for Satellites: Astroscale Launches Docking Plate to Capture Defunct Satellites

PARIS (Astroscale PR) — Astroscale Holdings Inc. (“Astroscale”), the market leader in satellite servicing and long-term orbital sustainability across all orbits, today revealed a universal docking device the company hopes will become standard fitment on all future low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Following on from the COP26 climate conference, Paris Peace Forum Net Zero Space Declaration, and the G7 statement on space sustainability, Astroscale calls on operators to prepare their spacecraft with a Docking Plate to prepare for future removal and to help safeguard the space environment.

There are an unprecedented number of satellites due to launch over the next decade, the majority into LEO, (250km to 2000km above Earth). The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has approved 16,447 satellites within constellations to date and has applications pending for an additional 64,816 satellites. The potential for high-velocity, high impact collisions is likely to increase unless disposal of satellites becomes part of everyday space operations.

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Epsilon Launches 9 Japanese Technology Demonstration Satellites

Epsilon launch (Credit: JAXA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched nine technology demonstration satellites on Tuesday, Nov. 9, aboard an Epsilon booster from the Uchinoura Space Center.

The payloads include a small satellite named RApid Innovative payload demonstration SatellitE-2 (RAISE-2), four microsatellites and four CubeSats that will demonstrate 14 technologies. The flight was done under JAXA’s Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration Program.

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Planned Comsat Constellations Now Exceed 94,000 Satellites

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A wave of new applications submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week for approval for communications satellites operating in the V band has sent the number of spacecraft in large constellations soaring to nearly 100,000.

A list compiled by Parabolic Arc shows that 94,255 satellites are included in the constellations. That number includes 29,439 satellites approved by the FCC or in development in China. The FCC has applicants pending before it for another 64,816 satellites.

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OSTP Issues Request for Comment on Orbital Debris R&D Plan

Location of the 24,000 debris larger than 10 cm in low orbit in 2020. (Credits: NASA)

Orbital Debris Research and Development Plan

AGENCY: Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

ACTION: Notice of Request for Comment (RFC).

SUMMARY: On behalf of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), Committee on Homeland and National Security, Subcommittee on Space Weather Security and Hazards, Interagency Working Group on Orbital Debris Research and Development, OSTP requests input from all interested parties on the Orbital Debris Research and Development (R&D) Plan, which will inform the Orbital Debris Research and Development Interagency Working Group’s activity for building out an implementation plan.

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