Climate Change: A Clean Space

Climate change is often thought of as the result of the greenhouse effect; and therefore, the cause of the rise in sea level, and bizarre weather patterns, such as extreme heat waves and record-breaking hurricanes. While all of this is true, the focus on climate change is centered on the weather occurrences being observed and experienced in the present. Climate change affects the Earth and its atmosphere. On a side note, the Earth’s upper atmosphere is a junk yard composed of remains of satellites, rockets, and other objects that have entered space. As a result of the increasing temperature of the lower atmosphere, where we live, the temperature of the upper-atmosphere is decreasing. The decrease in temperature causes the upper atmosphere to contract, thus removing some of the air; with less air, there is less friction in the upper atmosphere. If there is less friction in the upper atmosphere, less “space junk” falls back to Earth.

The following is an image of roughly the amount of space junk around the Earth:

There are those who think that less space junk falling back to Earth is a good thing because there is less to potentially cause damage upon re-entry. However, most space junk that does fall back to Earth burns up upon re-entry, an object would have to be significantly large in order to touch ground upon re-entry. In contrast, small objects in space can cause a lot of damage. There are roughly 520,000 trackable pieces, while millions pieces of debris that cannot be tracked. As a result of space junk building up, it has created a space junk yard, and imbedded in that space junk yard are communication satellites. Communications satellites play an integral role in daily activity. For example, without communication satellites technology like satellite internet, phones, satellite TV, GPS, weather tracking, and military communications would either not work or become over loaded with data and slow down. Imagine a world were cable internet would become so congested with data, it becomes almost impossible to use. Moreover, imagine a scenario where because weather patterns cannot be tracked, a hurricane like Maria hit Puerto Rico before people got any notice to take safety precautions. In addition, without TV it would become extremely difficult to notify people of such dangerous weather patterns. Without military communications, or at least slowed military communications, would leave, troops and the country vulnerable to attacks. With this said, these scenarios are only possible if all or at least most of the current communication satellites are wiped out. As a result of less space junk falling to Earth, the chance of satellites being damaged increase significantly. According to the Kessler Syndrome, the odds of damage to satellites increase with every collision of debris. The Kessler Syndrome states when one object bumps into another object, the momentum of those two objects increase the chances of the objects hitting into another two objects. Therefore, one object causes a total of two objects to be in motion, two becomes four, four becomes eight, eight becomes sixteen, so on and so forth. The initial bump between two pieces of space junk sets off a chain reaction substantially increasing the odds of any of the satellites in use becoming significantly damaged.

 

To no surprise, there is no immediate or fast solution for protecting satellites and clearing the “space junkyard.” For example, CleanSpace One has created a satellite with the purpose of grabbing debris and carrying it back in orbit, thus burning up itself and the debris upon re-entry. However, this cleaning satellite is not designed to handle like amounts of debris at once, and is a one-time use satellite. Multiples of these satellites would have to be shot into space to create any significant change, but remain a viable solution for getting rid of large debris in the case of an emergency.

The following is a video further describing how the CleanSpace One satellite works:

Moreover, it is equally important to make sure the issue does not become worse over time. To prevent more debris building up, future space vessels should be built with material that erodes easily in the presences of ultra-violet rays. Using such materials causes allows debris to break apart over time, and specifically helps with getting rid of smaller debris, thus allows satellites like CleanSpace One to focus on collecting larger objects. Without action now the issue will continue to grow, while it literally hangs over our heads.

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