Can The Space Junk In Earth’s Orbit Be Controlled?

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Space Safety

Mitigating infinite debris generation





With today’due south rate of 70–90 launches a yr, an increasing number of launches injecting 30 or more pocket-sized satellites into orbit at once, and assuming hereafter break-ups will continue at mean historical rates of iv to five per twelvemonth, the number of objects in space is expected to increase steadily.

As a outcome of the ascent object count, the probability of catastrophic collisions will also grow.

The nearly effective short­term ways of reducing the space debris growth rate is through the prevention of in­orbit explosions (via passivation of space objects at the end of their operational life) or collisions (via collision avoidance manoeuvres while the objects are still active).

In addition, stiff compliance with postal service-mission disposal guidelines is the near effective long-­term means of stabilising the space droppings environment at a safe level.

Strong compliance with post-mission disposal guidelines is the most effective long-­term means of stabilising the space droppings environment at a safe level

Furthermore, the removal of mass (5–10 large objects per year) from regions with high object densities and long orbital lifetimes may exist also necessary in order to stabilise the growth of the infinite debris population.

This must begin now, every bit ESA’due south internal studies show that continuous removal actions starting in 2060 would exist 25% less effective in comparing to an immediate offset.

Both types of mitigation measures need to be applied broadly and in a timely manner to avoid uncontrolled growth of the debris environment. If mitigation concepts are applied comparatively, or besides belatedly, some orbit regions, particularly the valuable 800–1400 km altitude, may experience a collisional cascading process that could return these regions too unsafe for space activities inside a few decades.

End-­of-­life disposal

In club to remove mass from densely populated orbits, information technology is recommended that satellites and orbital stages be allowable to reenter Earth’s atmosphere within 25 years of mission completion, if their deployment orbit altitude is beneath 2000 km (in the LEO region).

ERS-2 was moved to a rubber disposal orbit in 2011

For satellites and orbital stages in or almost the geostationary ring, reorbiting after mission completion to a ‘graveyard orbit’ is the only viable pick. The recommended reorbit altitude is about 300 km above the GEO band. This guarantees that the reorbited object will never interfere with operational GEO satellites. Both the LEO and GEO regions are denoted as ‘protected regions’, owing to their commercial and scientific value.

Other regions of space take not yet reached a ‘protected’ status. Nonetheless, satellites in navigation constellations (including Galileo, GPS and Glonass) likewise perform reorbit manoeuvres to clear their valuable operational orbit.

From these regions, at that place are possible disposal orbits that ensure a return into Earth’s atmosphere within a limited menstruation.

Satellites going to Lagrange points should also perform an stop-of-life manoeuvre to clear the region for other spacecraft, as well as to ensure that the satellite will not come up back to Earth in an uncontrolled way.

Passivation and design-for-demise

An important part of the end-­of-­life disposal of a space system is passivation.


During passivation, all latent energy reservoirs of a satellite or orbital phase are depleted to preclude an adventitious post­-mission explosion. Such passivation measures may include depletion burns, fuel and/or pressurant venting, the discharging of batteries and the inhibiting of pyro devices.

Design for demise

Meeting the on-­ground safety requirements in case of an uncontrolled reentry must be considered during the blueprint of space systems, through a concept named ‘blueprint for demise’.



In 2015, Integral was reorbited and will reenter safely in 2029, faux here

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Information technology is in fact an engineering process established for the intentional blueprint, assembly, integration and testing of spacecraft so that the infinite system volition fragment in a desired style during reentry and non cause a threat to people or holding on World.

Mitigation at ESA



ESA is playing a leading office in the implementation of infinite debris mitigation measures.

Since 1997, Ariane orbital stages accept performed a controlled fuel/pressurant venting and battery discharging. No explosive break­ups have occurred for Ariane stages launched subsequently 1997.

In 2011, ESA implemented dedicated finish-of mission operations for its European Remote Sensing (ERS-ii) satellite, which had been operational for over 16 years. During these operations, the remaining orbital lifetime was significantly reduced from more 200 years to well below fifteen years, and all balance fuel was consumed. This effectively reduced the risks of standoff and accidental break-up by orders of magnitude.

In 2013, ESA’s astronomy satellites Planck and Herschel, which were in a Lagrange-point orbit, were injected into orbits around the Sun after their missions were completed, in gild to avoid creating a standoff threat or reentry hazard.

In 2015, 2 large orbit-change manoeuvres were implemented for ESA’s Integral and Cluster-2 missions. These manoeuvres ensured that both will reenter Earth’s atmosphere during the adjacent decade in a safe mode, and avoid long-term interference with the protected LEO and GEO regions.

ESA has also reorbited all GEO satellites controlled by the Agency (several of them well earlier the beingness of any international guidelines).

Furthermore, since the mid­-1990s, ESA has performed collision avoidance for their LEO satellites.

Via ESA’southward Clean Space initiative, the agency is committed to the evolution and testing of novel technological concepts aimed at the mitigation of infinite debris generation. Those activities are grouped under the CleanSat project.

Mitigation guidelines at ESA

CleanSat, technologies for space debris mitigation

CleanSat, technologies for space droppings mitigation

In 2002, the Inter­Bureau Debris Coordination Committee published the IADC Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, and presented these to the UNCOPUOS Scientific & Technical Subcommittee (STSC), where they served every bit a baseline for the Un Infinite Debris Mitigation Guidelines.

In 2007 these guidelines were approved by the 63 STSC member nations every bit voluntary high­level mitigation measures.

Since the mid­ 1990s, space agencies in Europe have developed more technically oriented guidelines as a European Code of Carry, which was signed by ASI, UKSA, CNES, DLR and ESA in 2006.

The core elements of this Code of Comport are in line with the IADC and UN guidelines; in social club to tailor the Code of Acquit to the needs of ESA projects, ESA has developed its own Requirements on Infinite Debris Mitigation for Agency Projects. These instructions came into force on ane April 2008.

These have since been superseded by the 2011 ISO standard 24113 on debris mitigation requirements. This standard was adopted by the European Cooperation for Infinite Standardization, whose standards, via a formal ESA ADMIN/IPOL instruction, are applicable to all ESA projects. ESA supports the adoption of these requirements by the evolution of dedicated handbooks and standards on their verification.

International droppings mitigation standards

Space debris mitigation guidelines provide a framework for ‘what’ needs to be washed. The ‘how’ mitigation measures must be implemented is specified in a more formal manner, via international standards, or via bounden national requirements for the pattern and operation of space systems.

Such common standards guarantee a level field for industrial competition and for safe access to space into the hereafter. International debris mitigation standards have been developed at ISO, such equally in ISO­24113. The European Cooperation on Space Standardization (ECSS) adopted ISO­24113 in the space sustainability branch.

Experts from ESA regularly support these developments and their harmonisation with existing guidelines and requirements, such every bit in the ECSS. The ultimate ISO standards on space droppings mitigation, however, will remain non­binding (equally is true for whatever ISO standard).

The next stride later on technical definition and international standardisation is the transfer of guidelines into actual regulations. While some countries accept already taken this step and reflected space debris mitigation in their national regulations, worldwide implementation is withal pending.

In this context, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of UNCOPUOS recently accomplished consensus on a set of guidelines that address this important implementation of regulations in UN Member States.