Russia and China unveil plans for joint lunar space station as Moscow drifts away from NASA
March 12, 2021
April 16, 2021
A defunct satellite spent early April hurtling through space toward the body of an old rocket, threatening a collision that the European Union’s Space Surveillance and Tracking Consortium estimated could generate more than 4 million pieces of debris.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson reset the U.K.’s space ambitions last year when he spent $500 million to bail out OneWeb, a London-based rival to Elon Musk’s Starlink network. OneWeb is launching more than 600 satellites into the most congested orbital plane, about 150 of which are already in orbit. Had the U.K. allowed the venture to fail, it may have been liable had one of them smashed into something. OneWeb’s satellites are equipped with docking plates to couple with Astroscale’s cleanup vehicle, which would make it easier for the startup to remove the satellites after they’re decommissioned.
“If you recognize that space is a strategic capability, you want to make sure you take care of the operating environment,” says Alice Bunn, international director at the U.K. Space Agency. “It turns out we’re quite good at that, actually.”
The U.K. has expertise in space law, regulation, and insurance, as well as infrastructure for monitoring space weather that can affect satellites. A Royal Air Force space operations center is already developing techniques to observe and categorize debris. The private Space Data Association, based on the Isle of Man, tracks most geostationary satellites to warn operators of potential collisions, and there’s a move to create a similar body for satellites in low-Earth orbit, according to Nick Shave, chairman of the trade organization UKspace.
British diplomats are pushing for a legal framework that would require spacecraft owners to take responsibility for destroying their equipment at the end of its life and to allow one nation’s cleanup vehicle to remove another country’s junk.
There’s concern that the effort to clean up space may be coming too late. Space junk remediation efforts, says Mark Dankberg, chairman of U.S. satellite operator Viasat Inc., aren’t “consistent with risk and forms of damage that are likely to occur,” because any single collision could massively accelerate the risks for future events. Increased space traffic will make the job harder, but it will also push up demand. On March 16, General David Thompson, the U.S. Space Force’s vice chief of space operations, said that if it were possible to remove debris from orbit, the U.S. would be willing to “pay by the ton.”
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March 12, 2021
May 14, 2021
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