Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How Space Debris is Currently Handled-part 1 (5 of 9)

The current policy of the US (and all other countries) is to not seek ways to get rid of debris, just to diminish the growth of it. The most recent statement, from the United States’ National Space Policy says,
"Orbital debris poses a risk to continued reliable use of space-based services and operations and to the safety of persons and property in space and on Earth. The United States shall seek to minimize the creation of orbital debris by government and non-government operations in space in order to preserve the space environment for future generations."(USNSP, 2006)

The existing management of the problem of space debris is a combination of monitoring the larger debris and shielding orbital spacecraft from the smaller debris. The monitoring is done by The US Space Surveillance Network with a combination of satellites and ground-based radars, tracking debris larger than 3.9 inches in low earth orbit (124 vertical miles to 1240 vertical miles), where the majority of the satellites are, and larger than 3 feet in geosynchronous orbit (22,236 vertical miles), where there are approximately 300 satellites. The debris is tracked every day to predict and prevent collisions with spacecraft. Satellites and The International Space Station can be maneuvered out of the way of larger pieces of debris if given sufficient time to plan and implement beforehand and shielding can protect the spacecraft from the smallest debris (<.4 inches), even though it cannot be tracked. But even the smallest debris can ruin some satellites. For example, a single-tether satellite was rendered useless by a small particle severing the tether, losing its most recent information payload and requiring immediate action to stabilize it. But the middle range from .4 inches to 3.9 inches is classified as the debris “threat”, since debris that size can smash a satellite into more useless and dangerous debris, but technology to shield against that size of debris isn’t practically or economically feasible for most spacecraft, and it is too small to allow radars and other observational equipment to track it.

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