It can go from London to Moscow in 10 minutes, flying 500 kilometers from Earth, it can weigh less than 1 gram and is terribly dangerous. This is not a new secret mini weapon, thankfully, but a piece of the so-called space junk, which surrounds our planet. It is thought that there are at least 190 million objects with dimensions from millimeter to several meters, it is thought that they orbit in the so-called low orbit, between 300 and 1000 kilometers from the ground, a myriad of uncontrolled and uncontrollable projectiles that, if they hit a satellite in operation, they can cause enormous damage to its operation or even render it unusable.
All services at risk
We also think that our life today completely depends on the many services that satellites continuously provide us: it is estimated that each of us in the Western world uses the service of a satellite at least forty times a day. It may seem strange, but just think of the programs that we also have on our smartphone and that choose the best way for us to get to the desired address, that control the taxi we took for work, that provide the arrival time in real time of trams and buses at the stops, which control the coasts and air traffic and also, as we see in recent weeks, the theaters of war and the flight of military drones.
All these services are provided to us by satellites which are, for the most part, in the low orbit belt, the most crowded by space debris and which are proof of the fact that the States, which since 1957 have sent satellites of all kinds into orbit , they didn’t bother to get them out of the way when their operational life was over. So today we find at least 3,000 zombie satellites or parts of them of various sizes, in any case over one meter, but also Russian auxiliary rockets weighing thousands of kilos and similar components left in orbit by Europe and China.
As if that weren’t enough, some military exercises, such as the Russian one on November 15, 2021, in which an old spy satellite, the Cosmos 1408, was destroyed with a rocket that started from the ground has created thousands more dangerous debris, some of which have even endangered the International Space Station, Iss. Experiments like this, or a similar one carried out years earlier by the Chinese, are devastating and multiply the dangerous pieces. It’s a big problem, especially now that the space-related economy has got off to a flying start, which the major international investment banks, Morgan Stanley in the lead, describe as one of the great fields of business expansion of this decade.
An additional problem
As if the problem of space garbage were not enough, which some startups try to solve with innovative methods, but for the moment without success, today we have the additional one of the constellations of satellites for the distribution of the internet. To be competitive, satellites must be very close to the user, with low latency times, and therefore once again in low orbit. So here are the various projects by Elon Musk with his Starlink, currently more than 2000 satellites in orbit, but there will be many more in the end, and then Oneweb and all the others, Amazon, Europe and China understood that they are warming up their muscles to launch themselves in the competition.