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There’s no denying it, we are facing an orbital debris problem! As of January 2019, the ESA’s Space Debris Office estimates that there are at least 34,000 pieces of large debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – a combination of dead satellites, spent rocket stages, and other assorted bits of space junk. And with thousands of satellites scheduled to be launched in the next decade, that problem is only going to get worse.
This is a situation that cries out for solutions, especially when you consider the plans to commercialize LEO and start sending crewed missions to deep space in the coming years. A team of scientists from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) has come up with a simple but elegant idea: equip future satellites with a tether system so they can de-orbit themselves at the end of their lives.
Beginning - Space - Age - Countless - Satellites
Since the beginning of the space age, countless satellites have been launched into orbit. According to the ESA’s Space Debris Office, there are at least 3,000 inactive satellites in orbit right now, along with approximately 1,950 that are still in working order. All told, it is estimated that there 8,400 metric tons of human-made material floating around in orbit.
As Gonzalo Sánchez, the coordinator of the E.T. PACK Project and a Ramón y Cajal researcher in the UC3M Bioengineering and Aerospace Engineering Department, explained:
Space - Debris - Challenges - Aerospace - Industry
“Space debris is one of the major challenges that the aerospace industry will have to take on in the future. These are elements that have been left in orbit as a result of human activity in space, such as the upper stages of rocket launchers and dead satellites.”
To address this, Sánchez and his colleagues came up with the Electrodynamic Tether technology for Passive Consumable-less deorbit Kit (E.T.PACK) system. This project is part of the Horizon 2020 Future and...
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