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Posted on September 3rd, 2019

Out of this World – Space Junk and Just Junk

Where humans lead, trash follows. Space is no exception. Orbiting our planet is an unknown amount of space junk. There is a very real risk of this junk colliding and creating small pieces of debris that go on to damage other satellites. This damage turns into more small debris, setting off a chain reaction of destruction. Low earth orbit would be inundated with these small particles that shred larger satellites. It would be nearly impossible to launch a satellite into orbit without the junk destroying them. This is known as the Kessler Effect. The movie Gravity was a dramatization of this phenomenon.

Once again, our lack of forethought and inability to deal with a known issue until we absolutely have to, has left us vulnerable to a catastrophic future. Dealing with the issue afterward is short sighted and at that point it may be too late.

Currently, most satellites degrade in orbit until they burn up in the atmosphere, this can take years and it can still be dangerous to surrounding satellites.

The European RemoveDebris mission came up with a few options to reduce the junk in space and recently tested it out. On September 16, the RemoveDebris spacecraft released a small cubesat that inflated a 3-foot-wide object to mimic the size of actual space debris. Once it was about 19 feet away, the main spacecraft ejected a net to capture the cubesat. The video they took is super cool.

Watch as a spacecraft snatches space junk using a net.

Once captured, the plan is to attach a sail to the junk, increasing its drag and quickening its descent into Earth’s orbit. They are also testing a harpoon system with the same sail. Interestingly, they couldn’t test it on real junk since each piece of trash still belongs to the original owner.

In other space news, brought to you by the United States, who is excited to see Redbull on the side of the next rocket headed for space? Or maybe watch an astronaut, usually a trained scientist, not a NASCAR driver, extol the virtues of Prada perfume? Oh boy, you know I am! Because why explore space for science when you can do it for profit?

There are people in this world who see a blank canvass and imagine filling it with advertising. I’d rather someone come along and tag it than see an advertisement for Ford.

I imagine an astronaut dressed as Billy Dee Williams with a can of Colt 45, saying, “It works every time,” while floating in microgravity. Maybe that’s exactly how NASA Administrator Jim Birdenstine imagines the future of NASA. Another commercialized industry, driven by profit instead of exploration. Maybe when they send up the next LandSat satellite it will be endorsed by Exxon. So instead of looking for life or delving into the mysteries of our own existence, we’ll focus on mining asteroids and terraforming a planet inundated with radiation, instead of realizing we are standing on the only planet that can harbor life in our solar system.

It’s adorable he thinks that the hour long talk is going to be viewed by the public at-large. His talk continues the us versus them rhetoric around mining rare earth metals while at the same time celebrating the partnership within the International Space Station. He can’t seem to decide whether he should be collaborative or elitist. The shift is toward making money at every turn, or any turn at this point, from company names on rockets to astronauts acting like Olympic athletes on cereal boxes.

He even brought up creating human organs in space in relation to commercial profits… human organs, for commercial profit. Not to save lives, but for profit. So save your pennies for that heart transplant because this country couldn’t care less about your life, only your money.

It’s not a future I’m looking forward to, where the end goal is profit over science and exploration.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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