Experts To Meet In Europe To Discuss Space Debris Issue
April 18, 2013

Experts To Meet In Europe To Discuss Space Debris Issue

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Hundreds of experts from all over the world will be meeting at Europe's largest-ever space debris forum next week to discuss the latest findings on the growing problem of space junk.

Space debris not only poses problems to other satellites and spacecraft in orbit but it is also hazardous to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Scientists believe there could be around 29,000 objects larger than 4 inches, 670,000 pieces larger than 0.4 inches and over 170 million above 0.04 inches floating in space around planet Earth.

“Any of these objects can harm an operational spacecraft,” Heiner Klinkrad, Head of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Space Debris Office, said in a statement.

He said satellite fragments larger than 4 inches could cause catastrophic damages to spacecraft, releasing hazardous debris clouds that can cause further collisions.

“Space debris mitigation measures, if properly implemented by satellite designers and mission operators, can curtail the growth rate of the debris population. Active debris removal, however, has been shown to be necessary to reverse the debris increase,” says Heiner.

In order to try and find solutions to this problem, scientists will be gathering at the 6th European Conference on Space Debris at ESOC, ESA´s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, April 22nd through 25th.

“As this is a global task, active removal is a challenge that should be undertaken by joint efforts in cooperation with the world´s space agencies and industry,” says Thomas Reiter, Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations. “ESA, as a space technology and operations agency, has identified the development of active removal technologies as a strategic goal.”

During this conference, more than 300 researchers, engineers, policy-makers, space law specialists, insurance underwriters, space and ground system operators, and institutional organizations will be gathering to discuss solutions for space debris. About two-thirds of catalogued space debris objects originate from orbital break-ups and less than 10 are from known collisions.

In 2009, the US Iridium-33 civil communications satellite and Russia's Kosmos-2251 military satellite collided, creating more than 2,200 tracked fragments. Astronauts aboard the ISS had to maneuver the space lab out of the way of an orbiting piece of space debris left over from this collision three years later.

Last month, scientists released a report about the dangers of space debris, as well as the best ideas to try and remove it with less risk. In the report, the team discussed solutions for trying to clean up space junk, and the risks associated with those potential devices in creating more debris.