by Staff Writers
Bethesda MD (SPX) Jan 05, 2016
The study of the space environment cuts across several fields of research. Findings impact astronautical engineering and space physics. All space applications and operations are directly affected by the conditions found in orbit. This environment is of course coupled to the physical universe and reflects several billion years of evolution.
In the near-Earth region, the environment has been enhanced with the addition of man-made spacecraft and rocket stages that have peppered Earth's neighborhood with expired and discarded hardware that has evolved into a worrisome debris shell that encircles the planet.
Traditional research into space environment has essentially ignored space debris and has focused on the natural processes related to radiation, subatomic particles and electromagnetic fields. Space debris research is a field that has drawn little attention, because space trash is a recent phenomenon and its effects are thought to be local to the Earth's region.
There are many similarities between the study of space environment and the oceans. Researchers from both fields tend to focus on natural phenomena. Millions of tons of human trash are dumped in the oceans every year.
This is largely the product of mismanaged waste. The general attitude regarding this waste is that the oceans are big and the amount of trash is small compared to the mass of the seas. In addition, much of the dumped material degrades over time. However, plastic materials do not just disappear.
Recent studies suggest fish and other sea animals may be ingesting large pieces of plastic that clog intestines. As plastic tears apart into small pieces it can be ingested by smaller invertebrates that are the base of the food chain.
Most research into the space environment largely ignores the debris and its impacts on long-term space access and in-orbit operations. This debris has been accumulating for over 50 years and is now approaching a "choke" point.
Yes, space is "big" and will remain big. But, the number of dangerous debris objects in certain regions of near-Earth space are starting to degrade safe satellite flight to the point of interfering with normal space flight activities.
It may be simply a matter of months or years before space flight becomes impossible without cleaning up the debris fields. While it is true that many companies and agencies are concerned about the debris situation, there has been little progress toward a solution. One day we will have to clean up the oceans, and the space debris.
Space Technology News - Applications and Research
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