Stumbling in Space

Stumbling in Space
Fecha de publicación: 
13 March 2023
Imagen principal: 

That the Earth is a bit dirty, okay, but that Space also needs cleaning, that's already for movies. But, no, it’s real even if it causes amazement, laughter, skepticism.

Every time our life looks more like fiction. I remember that in the Futurama series, an anime set in year 3000 released in 1999, the protagonists who flew through the outer space as if they were riding a bicycle along any avenue, had to dodge in zigzags all kinds of garbage piled up or scattered in the limbo between planets and minor stars. It’s television, however, in reality it’s very similar.

In the more than 60 years that man has been trying to conquer the universe, from Laika, Gagarin, to Apollo 17 and recent incursions, mankind has left "floating" in space a considerable amount of devices and waste that have lost their use like inactive satellites, and parts and pieces of equipment that cosmonauts need to reach their destination, survive and return, or others that were accidentally scattered across the space. They add to more than 25 thousand objects.

We have all seen in movies and documentaries that as the device progresses, attachments or small fragments that it no longer needs, like an empty fuel tank. This has been the case since the travel to outer space began, and all that scrap, which can measure from one centimeter to weigh more than 100 kilos, remained abandoned and trapped by gravity, gradually affecting the path between Earth and the Moon.

Despite the fact that a large number of elements are wandering, at present it’s not a critical situation. Recently, experts on the matter repeated that this is a problem that can hinder future missions involving our natural satellite, the Moon, because if the amounts of debris around it increase, the route will be complex, as well as the moon landing and takeoff.

The difference regarding the debris orbiting the Earth and the Moon is that for ours there’s a catalog that records characteristics, location, displacement; all this based on constant observation in order to anticipate behavior and guide actions to follow. It’s not the same for the debris around the Moon. And although it doesn’t seem to be too much yet, scientists are already concerned about finding a solution because bumping into blunt objects, or a mass of many small ones, can compromise the integrity of the missions because of the threat it poses for spacecraft and crew, and also because it would damage operational satellites in Earth orbits.

Since 2020, one of the first initiatives carried out in the United States is to inventory the debris in cislunar orbit with the support of techniques and research tools from Earth that help to identify and track the remnants. Likewise, to anticipate collisions, China is leading a project using artificial intelligence that monitors and calculates the trajectory of the elements that gravitate in outer space.

The first step is the study, which is not easy due to the conditions, the distance and, very importantly, the lack of lighting. Then a way of recycling should be devised, and therein lies the great difficulty of the operation because we are talking about huge volumes in a journey of millions of kilometers away, in a complex environment outside the absolute domain of human beings.

One of the ideas, from Europe, is related to the use of sails so that, for example, the satellites lose height when they have a breakdown or when their services end. This proposal is still in the testing phase, but it assumes that when the accessory is deployed, the device will be able to change its rhythm, deorbit, and reenter the atmosphere, where friction will destroy it.

In conclusion. As infinite as it may be, the trail that we are leaving on the way to our goals to explore beyond the planet is important; and we still have a lot of research to find a way to eliminate waste while we continue to explore the afterlife, which is a necessary activity for the development of humanity.

Translated by Amilkal Labañino / CubaSí Translation Staff

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