Space debris: the risks and the remedies

Tens of thousands of pieces of debris are ricocheting around space. While many are tiny, they have the potential to add up to a very big problem, reports Tara Craig

Clever manoeuvring was recently required by European Space Agency (ESA) satellite Sentinel-1A, due to a near miss with a chunk of space debris – what ESA has referred to elsewhere as ‘deadly fragments of the past’. The debris was ‘unknown’, with the agency unable at that stage to identify the event that had produced it. According to ESA, “operators carried out six thruster burns to take Sentinel-1A over clear of the object’s estimated location and return it to its nominal orbit”. Data gathering was temporarily halted, additional fuel costs were incurred and the ESA team at mission control was forced to rethink the satellite’s route. This event, on August 31, is just the latest illustration of a growing issue – how to monitor and address, and even prevent, space debris.

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