FunWhat is Kessler syndrome?

What is Kessler syndrome?

Although it is not usually a regular topic of conversation, we rely on satellites for much of our daily lives. Thanks to them we have GPS, global communication or accurate weather reports. But they also help measure the destruction of the environment, track the weather or sea level. However, the satellites that have become so essential in our lives, face a great problem: the huge amount of space debris -which does not stop growing and with which they share Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

What happens when a satellite stops working or is no longer needed? They do not return to Earth alone or disappear in any way. When a satellite breaks, no one goes into space to fix it. They all stay there, remain in its orbit, moving at incredible speeds. It’s hard looking up at the sky to think of something that might make space exploration difficult, but those dead satellites, paint stains, fragments of solar panels, or rockets from old missions can pose a threat.

There are millions of pieces of debris in orbit and only a few tens of thousands are regularly tracked by the United States military. When thousands or even millions of objects fly around our planet at tremendous speeds, the potential for collisions is high.

It was in 1978, when NASA astrophysicist Donald J. Kessler considered what scenario would await our skies as we launched satellites into space. His prediction stated that debris in low Earth orbit would at some point reach a tipping point and when this happened, it would start a chain reaction of collisions. Each collision would create even more space debris, which in turn would cause even more collisions, and so on. This domino effect is what we know as Kessler Syndrome. We would basically become prisoners on our own planet.

Although the military has the largest public database of space debris, it does not include satellites omitted by international governments, commercial companies, or other ongoing projects.

All that space junk is moving at speeds of up to 17,000 miles per hour and each object varies in direction as it is affected by the Earth’s gravitational field. Avoiding collisions through evasive maneuvers consumes the fuel and time of the satellite, making it a less efficient instrument than it should be. In addition, there is the detail that most objects in orbit cannot be controlled from Earth, so there is no way to interfere with the debris on a collision course.

The danger posed by even a small fragment traveling at high speeds is easy to see. As calculated by NASA, a 1 centimeter “paint stain” traveling at 10 km / s can cause the same damage as a 250 kilogram object moving at about 100 km / hour on Earth. If we increase the size of the fragment to 10 centimeters, such a projectile would have the force of 7 kilograms of TNT. If we imagine thousands of such objects flying at breakneck speeds and colliding with each other … the landscape is truly nightmarish.

With a chain reaction of collisions and explosions of space junk, the orbital area would be filled with highly dangerous debris and the space program would be in jeopardy. For all space agencies. Travel beyond low Earth orbit, such as the planned mission to the planet Mars, would become more challenging if possible. And remember that the largest object in low Earth orbit is the International Space Station (ISS) that continuously houses astronauts. A large collision with the ISS would be disastrous.

To prevent greater evils, it is imperative to create less garbage and take measures to mitigate pollution in space : limit the number of satellites that are launched, ensure that these objects can be safely disposed of once they are no longer needed, and try to come up with a workable solution to sweep up or clean up existing space debris.

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