By Reinhard Jacobsen
VIENNA (IDN) – Space debris is an issue of global concern that threatens our continued use of near-Earth space for the benefit of humankind. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have joined forces to create a series of infographics and podcasts that tell the story of space debris, explain the risks and illustrate the solutions available to ensure future space exploration remains sustainable.
Space debris is widely defined as all non-functional human-made objects, including fragments and elements thereof, in Earth orbit or re-entering into Earth’s atmosphere. Space debris is increasing in parallel with the growing number of countries using space. With more objects launched into outer space, space debris poses exponential risks for near-Earth collisions, threatening space operations and limiting the development of a secure commercial space environment.
This new series of infographics cover topics such as how space debris is created, how it falls back to Earth, how to avoid collisions with spacecraft, a history of past incidents, and technologies for safe removal and mitigation. They include attractive easy to understand illustrations, facts and figures so that anyone, even without previous knowledge of spaceflight, can understand what space debris is and the challenges it poses.
“Space may seem vast, but the orbits around Earth in which satellites reside are a limited natural resource,” explains the UNOOSA. “Accidental collisions, explosions and even the intentional destruction of satellites have created millions of debris fragments, which, orbiting at high speed, can damage or destroy any functioning spacecraft that crosses their path.”
In view of the growing dependence on satellite technology, it is getting increasingly important to protect these unique orbital regions that are essential for humanity to, for example, gather data for weather forecasting and to better understand extreme weather our changing climate, as well as for internet access, communication and location services.
An issue of concern
“Unfortunately, the amount of space debris in orbit is increasing at an exponential rate. As a growing number of countries and actors begin space activities – a hugely positive development in general – and as satellite operations become more complex and the number of objects being launched, including in large constellations, rapidly increases, so too do the challenges posed to our space environment,” explicates the UNOOSA.
ESA’s Space Safety programme was adopted in 2019 as a key pillar in the Agency’s activities. The programme, an expansion of the former Space Situational Awareness programme, includes ESA’s Space Debris and Clean Space Offices, which are working to better understand the debris environment, prevent the creation of more debris, reduce the amount in orbit and lessen the impact of space activities on Earth.
In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly expressed its worry about the fragility of the space environment and the impact of space debris, which is an issue of anxiety to all nations. In 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), of which UNOOSA is Secretariat, adopted the Guidelines for the Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities (LTS Guidelines), which provide guidance to help ensure the safe and sustainable use of space. The LTS Guidelines were subsequently welcomed with appreciation by the United Nations General Assembly, and a new working group will continue multilateral discussions on the topic.
This new series of infographics jointly produced by UNOOSA and ESA include attractive, easy to understand illustrations, facts and figures so that everyone with or without any previous knowledge of spaceflight, can understand space debris and the challenge it poses. They cover topics such as how debris is created, how to avoid collisions, the risk to humans in space from debris and on Earth from re-entries, as well as technologies for safe debris mitigation and removal.
Each of the nine infographics is accompanied by a podcast with audio commentary from UNOOSA and ESA experts, who help navigate and understand the material.
Infographics and podcasts are being released, once a week, over a period of nine weeks, starting on February 10, 2021, as well as via @UNOOSA and @ESA social media accounts.
“A new era of space has begun, in which large constellations of thousands of satellites are being launched to the skies,” said ESA Director Jan Wörner. “What this ‘New Space’ makes possible – global internet access, telecommunications – it also threatens, as a rapid increase in space traffic may dramatically increase the chance of collisions. Innovative technologies, responsible behaviour and importantly international cooperation are fundamental to ensuring our future in space is sustainable.”
UNOOSA Director Simonetta Di Pippo said: ” Space debris poses a clear risk for the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. Space economy calls for a safe, secure and sustainable space environment. UNOOSA welcomes working with ESA to disseminate clear, accessible public information on space debris that will increase awareness of the challenges they pose and contribute to strengthening international cooperation on mitigation measures.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 February 2021]
Read a related article: https://www.indepthnews.net/index.php/opinion/4211-time-to-negotiate-for-peace-in-space
Image credit: UNOOSA.
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