China Rocket Debris Falls In Indian Ocean


    In News

    Debris from the last stage of China’s Long March rocket fell into the waters of the Indian Ocean west of the Maldives. 


    • The Long March-5B Y2 rocket was carrying the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, module, which is the first of three key components for the construction of China’s space station.
      • China’s space station would be second after the International Space Station.
      • Recently, Russia also announced its own International Space Station.
    • Remnants of China’s largest rocket re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean. 
    • The debris now lies west of the Maldives archipelago.

    Criticisms of China

    • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) criticised China for “failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris”.
    • Uncertainty over the rocket’s orbital decay and China’s failure to issue stronger reassurances in the run-up to the re-entry are causes of concern.
    • Last year also, another Long March rocket of the same 5B variant had crashed on Ivory Coast created a lot of debris.

    Space Debris

    • Most Space debris comprises human-generated objects, such as pieces of spacecraft, tiny flecks of paint from a spacecraft, parts of rockets, satellites that are no longer working, or explosions of objects in orbit flying around in space at high speeds.
    • Most “space junk” is moving very fast and can reach speeds of 18,000 miles per hour, almost seven times faster than a bullet. 

    Ways to clean Space Debris

    • To tackle this problem, several companies around the world have come up with novel solutions:
    • Removing dead satellites from orbit and dragging them back into the atmosphere, where they will burn up. To do this-
    • Use a harpoon to grab a satellite; 
    • catching it in a huge net;
    • using magnets to grab it;
    • firing lasers to heat up the satellite; 
    • execute a collision avoidance mnoeuvre;
    • increasing its atmospheric drag so that it falls out of orbit.
    • However, these methods are only useful for large satellites orbiting Earth. There isn’t a way to pick up smaller pieces of debris such as bits of paint and metal.
    • There are international guidelines for getting rid of old satellites and rockets from the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). 
    • By making sure that satellites are removed from orbit in a reasonable amount of time once they are no longer active, we can mitigate the problem of space junk in the future.

    Challenges in Space Debris Removal

    • Unfortunately, there is an explosion risk in removing more dangerous objects.
    • The issue of property rights; one can’t grab a satellite or rocket that belongs to another country without their permission. 
    • It is hard to eliminate space debris as there are huge chances of creating more junk while doing it.
    • Most satellite operators require hours or days to plan and execute a collision-avoidance manoeuvre

    Way Forward

    • Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations.
    • It is critical that all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security and long-term sustainability of outer space activities.
    • The high-accuracy assessment and prediction tools are essential for reducing risk to current systems and future launches.
    • Space Debris Monitoring and Space Traffic Management
      • Space traffic management is a crucial area that requires attention since the satellites in orbit can come in the way of each other
      • Thus, Space Debris management and monitoring play a crucial role as many countries are becoming players. 
      • Space debris monitoring removal has an estimated market revenue of around 2.7 billion dollars in the 2020s.
    • Space junk is no one countries’ responsibility, but the responsibility of every spacefaring country
    • The problem of managing space debris is both an international challenge and an opportunity to preserve the space environment for future space exploration missions.

    Kessler Syndrome

    • This is an idea proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978. 
    • It states that if there was too much space junk in orbit, it could result in a chain reaction where more and more objects collide and create new space junk in the process, to the point where Earth’s orbit becomes unusable.
    • It is also known as “collisional cascading”.
    • This cascade of collisions first came to NASA’s attention in the 1970s when derelict Delta rockets left in orbit began to explode creating shrapnel clouds.
    • Kessler proposed it would take 30 to 40 years for such a threshold to be reached and today, some experts think we are already at critical mass in low-Earth orbit at about 560 to 620 miles (900 to 1,000 kilometres).

    How can Kessler Syndrome be avoided?

    • The successful ‘passivation’ of all spacecraft, which would limit on-orbit breakups, and the widespread, i.e. more than 90%, adoption of effective disposal strategies at the end of missions would contribute to containing the growth of space debris.
    • Clean Space by cutting debris production from future space missions.
    • Then an urgent need to reduce the total mass of current debris, such as the robotic salvage of derelict satellites.

    Source: TH