Members from Team Space Enabled will be participating in the upcoming 8th European Conference on Space Debris. On Thursday, April 22 from 7:00am-8:00am ET, Danielle Wood will speak on the panel "Leave No Traces," which will discuss space debris in context of space sustainability, space debris mitigation guidelines, and orbits as a limited natural resource.
In addition, Elena Cirkovic, Minoo Rathnasabapathy, and Danielle Wood have contributed to a paper, "Sustainable Orbit and the Earth System: Mitigation and Regulation." The paper explores long-term sustainability issues related to increasing activities in outer space, with a particular focus on orbital debris. The paper argues that orbital and planetary sustainability, and the corresponding evolution of domestic, international, and regional regulatory instruments, need to take place in conjunction with sustainability of the Earth System, using examples of the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). It will be presented on Friday, April 23, as an oral session comprising part of "S26 - Regulatory aspects, standardisation, policies," 4:45am-6:15am ET.
Since 1957, nearly 6000 space launches have led to an on-orbit population today of more than 26,000 tracked objects. The very recent years have shown a significant and unprecedented growth, primarily in small and commercial satellites in Low-Earth orbits. Large constellations are being deployed. Today, a total of about 2,800 objects are functional spacecraft. The remaining are space debris, i.e. objects which no longer serve any useful purpose. Most of the routinely tracked objects are fragments from about 550 break-ups, explosions, collisions, or anomalous events resulting in fragmentation of satellites or rocket bodies. In addition, there is evidence of a much larger population of debris that cannot be tracked operationally. An estimated number of 900,000 objects larger than 1 cm and 128 million objects larger than 1mm are expected to reside in earth orbits.
Due to relative orbital velocity of up to 56,000 km/h, centimetre-sized debris can seriously damage or disable an operational spacecraft. Collisions with an object larger than 10 cm will lead to catastrophic breakups, releasing hazardous debris clouds of which some fragments can cause further catastrophic collisions that may lead to an unstable debris environment in some orbit regions (“Kessler syndrome”).
Space debris mitigation measures, if properly implemented by spacecraft designers and missions operators, can curtail the growth rate of the space debris population. Active removal of large intact objects has been shown to be necessary to reverse the debris increase. In addition, it becomes important for each and every mission, whether a large constellation or a single 1U CubeSat, to quantify the impact it has on the space environment and other operators in order to achieve a sustainable space environment.
To improve our understanding of the space debris environment, assess related risks, mitigate its growth, and control its stability, collaboration of and information sharing between a multitude of technical disciplines is key. This conference aims to contribute to this goal by gathering recognised experts in their fields.