Providing In-space Servicing and Debris Mitigation Solutions to Help Tackle the Space Traffic Management Emergency
Space debris is becoming a recurring theme in mainstream media, as defunct rocket boosters, satellites and other space garbage are posing increasing collision threats to our operational satellites and research stations in orbit. Sooner or later, the threat will become a reality and the consequences could be disastrous to our functioning on Earth.
The Indian anti-satellite test (ASAT) in March 2019 and the Russian ASAT in November 2021 caused friction, agitation, and concern among geopolitical settings. Meanwhile, near-collisions, such as the one between the defunct Soviet navigation satellite and Chinese rocket booster in October 2020, as well as a (supposed) Chang’e 5-T1 rocket stage currently heading for a harsh landing on the Moon, spark a heightened sense of urgency surrounding the subject of unintentional, but potentially avoidable, damage to assets in space.
While this outlook is exceptionally gloomy, there is sincere urgency to solve the lack of regulation, space debris and space traffic management issues.
Tackling the big challenges …
One of the key challenges that nations are faced with is finding international consensus on how to approach space traffic management. As such, many nations and regions across the globe are currently working on implementing their own frameworks to help tackle this issue. Recent examples include European Commissioner Thierry Breton calling for better management and protection, a new funding framework for space sustainability projects in the United Kingdom, and a discussion on which agency gains authority over space traffic management in the United States.
The urgency is stressed on a Department of Defense and government level as well by senior US Space Force officials, including Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt. DeAnna Burt outlined in a recent speech the need to shift from space traffic awareness to space traffic management in the interest of national security. Another recent example includes the request for information by the Intelligence Advanced Research Project Activity (IARPA) for innovative approaches to detect and track currently undetectable orbital space debris, alongside the release of the open architecture data repository (OADR) prototype software platform by the Office of Space Commerce; an online catalogue tracking satellites and debris.
… by slowly finding a solution
It is not all negative, however, and action is being taken in order to alleviate these challenges. Although the US-space industry itself is expected to launch thousands of small satellites as part of low-Earth orbit megaconstellations over the next couple of years – an area that requires further regulation – business cases are being made and technology is being implemented to help tackle the space debris issues.
US-based organizations are working towards solutions that either help monitor space debris threats or that will help to prolong the life of satellites, reducing the need for new, expensive (mainly geostationary) satellites to be launched in the future. Moreover, there is a growing domestic technology and data services supply chain which can ultimately tap into the solutions of space debris management.
The physical safety and security of assets in space is of utmost importance as so many terrestrial services (telecommunications, location services, military and national security applications, among many others) now rely on space capabilities. As such, space sustainability is a big topic on the Space Tech Expo USA 2022 Conference.
Hear from space sustainability and servicing experts at Space Tech Expo USA 2022
On a technology level, Space Tech Expo USA conference speakers from SpaceLogistics LLC and NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center both work on satellite servicing capabilities, prolonging the life of existing satellites on-orbit through refuelling missions and removing debris in orbit. Both organizations are some of the few taking leaps in this field, building a business case for space debris management and space sustainability. Both organizations will join in on the session ‘Expanding Building Blocks and Capabilities to Establish a Resilient Space Logistics Infrastructure’, where the panel will also explore the topics of the retirement of the International Space Station, space-based infrastructure development and robotics innovation for rendezvous operations, servicing and assembly missions.
The conference also welcomes experts from the Federal Aviation Administration, LeoLabs and The Aerospace Corporation on the ‘Taking Urgent Space Safety Steps Now to Avoid Future Loss of In-space Assets’ panel session. Speakers will talk about the role of the US space industry in the wider space sustainability context, how to increase international collaboration and how to move forward solutions on space traffic management on a US-domestic level.
To hear from our expert speakers, make sure to register for the in-person Space Tech Expo USA, which is scheduled to take place on May 23-25 in Long Beach, CA. Secure your seat by registering here.