A year ago, China took the monumentally stupid step of demonstrating its space military power by shooting down one of its own satellites. Good for them; they can blow stuff up. And then came the unintended consequences. That explosion created tens of thousands of new debris fragments in space, and because each of the high orbital speeds involved, any single one of those fragments could cause serious damage to a satellite, a space shuttle, or the International Space Station. China’s military demonstration was ridiculously stupid (one might say “epic fail”), kind of like demonstrating your prowess with a gun by shooting everyone in attendance in the feet, yourself included. Space debris is a problem that affects everyone equally, and as China continues to develop and sends more satellites into space, they’re really going to wish they hadn’t put all of their space hardware at an increased risk. Space junk does not discriminate.
So you can imagine my fury when I read today that the United States is considering a plan to fire a missile at one of its failing spy satellites. No, no, a thousand times, no! Don’t be as stupid and shortsighted as the Chinese. Let the damn satellite come down on its own. The risks of it hitting anything important are minute, and once it is down in one piece, at least the problem is over. But blast it into thousands of pieces of space debris and you’ve just created a problem that will be with us for hundreds of years.
Low-Earth orbit isn’t a dumping ground for us to fark around with at our leisure. There is a saturation limit beyond which debris runs into other debris at an accelerating rate, creating ever smaller debris, eventually saturating low-Earth orbit with fine, lethal junk in a runaway process. This is called the Kessler syndrome, and it’s an end scenario we desperately want to avoid. If we end up foolishly walling ourselves off from space for the hundreds of years it would take the space debris to fall to Earth through friction, I do not think our species would survive. We’re already trashing this planet so badly our only hopes are to get off it. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »