In 1978 the scientist and NASA consultant Donald J. Kessler, aware of the increasing number of satellites that the powers put into orbit each year, and the predictability that such number would grow over time, proposed an unflattering future scenario that We could describe it with the term “chain reaction” that physicists use when they speak of nuclear fission.
In that “apocalyptic” scenario, Kessler imagined a volume of space debris in low Earth orbit so high that the innumerable objects that would fly uncontrollably (like stray bullets) would frequently hit other objects (think of satellites in operation). In turn, the objects resulting from the impact, turned into new space debris projectiles, would hit each other, increasing the chaos each time. As you can see, the expression “chain reaction”Is effectively the most graphic analogy to understand what could happen, if we keep putting more and more new satellites in orbit, while not worrying about removing the old ones.
Talking about the Kessler Syndrome today is more relevant than ever, especially after the world learned what the Russians have done when testing ground-to-space missiles using an old Kosmos-1408 satellite launched in 1982 as a target. The kosmos, damaged for years, weighed more than a ton and the multiple objects that were thrown after the impact of the missile came to seriously worry the crew of the ISS, unleashing, of course, the indignation of the United States authorities. who crossed out the Russian maneuvers as “dangerous and irresponsible”.
Currently there is an approximate figure of 330 million pieces of human technology in space. Obviously it is not that humanity has thrown all these objects individually, but that many of them are small remains detached from other larger objects. If this chain reaction is not stopped, the Earth will end up orbited by belts of space debris, which would be an extremely serious problem if we intend to travel safely to space, since we would be forced to overcome those belts of detritus.
If you wonder if there has already been an impact between satellites, the answer is “Yes”. In 2009, an operational US communications satellite, called Iridium 33, collided with an abandoned Russian communications satellite called Cosmos 2251, somewhere in orbit about 780 kilometers above northern Siberia, generating about 1,000 pieces of garbage. space. (Many of which keep spinning uncontrollably on our heads.)
Unfortunately, we are getting closer and closer to the fatal point to which Kessler intended to alert us, since the rate at which we launch satellites into orbit far exceeds that of objects falling to Earth, something of which the American consultant was already aware in 2009, when he warned that if nothing was done, collisions between satellites would be the most common source of creation of new space debris.
Today, the models used by the United States Air Force already conclude that the space environment is “unstable”. Even ESA agrees that even if projects aimed at removing old satellites from orbit were launched, and launches were spaced (highly unlikely) we will soon begin to see impacts between objects. This will be especially common in some heavily used (and crowded) geosynchronous orbits today for state and commercial communication instruments.
Anyway, as you see the stage is one of those that scare. I would not want to be ominous, but the famous destructive scene that the movie of Alfonso Cuaron “Gravity“In 2013 (below these lines), in which a series of” caroms “related to a dangerous swarm of space debris, ends up destroying the ISS could be closer than we think.
No wonder that last week’s Russian maneuver with the old Kosmos-1408 did not give the ISS astronauts’ hairs like spikes, who had to take refuge in the depths of the station in case things got complicated.
The emergence of new companies oriented to the space business has managed to significantly lower the price of launches, and that can only mean one thing, very soon the expression “Kessler syndrome” will cease to be unknown, to become a nightmare that would threaten sectors as critical as communications, GPS and weather forecasts.
I found out by reading Gizmodo.com