Space Sustainability is a matter of vital concern to humanity as it pertains to keeping space accessible and ensuring our space infrastructure remains operational in the foreseeable future.
There is a vast amount of space debris, or junk, in orbit around our planet. This comes from meteoroids, dead or damaged satellites, rocket stages left in orbit from various launches, or various pieces of small debris and paint flecks that have come off from rockets and other space systems. Through the use of tracking stations humanity has been able to track more than 15,000 pieces of space debris larger than 10 cm (4 inches) across. It is estimated that there are about 200,000 pieces between 1 and 10 cm (0.4 and 4 inches) across and that there could be 128 million or more pieces smaller than 1 cm.
This space debris orbits around the earth at tremendous speeds of roughly 25,265 kph (15,700 mph) in low earth orbit. This debris can cause significant damage to a satellite or a spacecraft if it were to collide which results in satellites, and the International Space Station, having to make orbital adjustments to prevent impacts. An impact occurrence can result in the destruction of another satellite which can create more debris, in the order of up to an additional 2500 pieces of debris. If a piece of space debris were to impact with the ISS, or a manned spacecraft, it could lead to dangerous decompression, catastrophic orbital failures, and death.
The hazards of space debris have been discussed in many current media & news sources, this indicates the critical precipice that exists for operational safety in the Space sector as well as the risk to global communication and other needed earth infrastructure services.
Recent occurrences, such as the Russian ASAT (anti-satellite missile test) test in November 2021 have resulted in 1500 pieces of trackable debris with hundreds of thousands more expected have substantially contributed to this hazard. That test resulted in the astronauts aboard the ISS having to take shelter in a spacecraft due to the serious threat to their safety and almost impacted with a Chinese satellite which could have created even more debris.
ASAT tests, especially ones involving kinetic kill vehicles, contribute to the formation of orbital space debris which can remain in orbit for many years and can interfere with future space operability. The 2007 Chinese ASAT test was the largest creation of space debris in history, with more than 2,000 pieces of trackable size (13 cm/5 in and larger) officially catalogued in the immediate aftermath, and an estimated 150,000 debris particles. As of October 2016, a total of 3,438 pieces of debris had been detected, with 571 decayed and 2,867 still in orbit nine years after the incident.
More than half of the tracked debris orbits the Earth with a mean altitude above 850 kilometres (530 mi), so they would likely remain in orbit for decades or centuries. Based on 2009 and 2013 calculations of solar flux, the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office estimated that around 30% of the larger-than-10-centimeter (3.9 in) debris would still be in orbit in 2035. In April 2011, debris from the Chinese test passed 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) away from the International Space Station. As of April 2019, 3000 of the 10,000 pieces of space debris routinely tracked by the US Military as a threat to the International Space Station were known to have originated from the 2007 ASAT test.
These instances dictate that we must act immediately to minimize those existing hazards by increasing our tracking initiatives and cleaning our orbital environment, and to ensure that all governmental space agencies and private space operators actively contribute to space sustainability to allow uninterrupted access to space for all.
This involves the change to reusable rockets that can be returned to earth rather than leaving disposable stages in orbit, satellites designed to safely deorbit and burn up in the atmosphere at their end of life, space & satellite operators coordinating their orbital trajectories and reducing their satellite constellation programs which are growing to be a critical threat to future space operability, increased debris removal initiatives, and increasing awareness about space debris and what can be done about it.
Space operators are starting to actively work on solving the debris issue, and producing valuable resources for tracking & monitoring such as this useful app for visualising real time orbital debris, which is designed & managed by Privateer Space
The Net Zero Space Initiative is a global program managed by the Paris Peace Forum to develop a partnership between governmental and private sector space operators with academia to work together to reduce these debris hazards and ensure that we maintain space sustainability for all generations.
Another such organization is the Space Safety Coalition which in turn is building a global collaboration of space operators concerned about space sustainability & safety who endorse and support the SSC’s Best Practices for the Sustainability of Space Operations, a framework that all adhere to and practice to minimise their impact upon space and work together to prevent future collision hazards.
DarkStar Aerospace has pledged our support and commitment to the Net Zero Space Initiative and to the Space Safety Coalition so that we can contribute to maintaining space sustainability and help to manage space debris hazards. We recently deorbited a technology prototype satellite and are designing our future launches to operate in that same manner. We design and produce rocket propulsion & rocket systems, utilising Green Hybrid propellants that have no toxicity and produce minimal pollution while producing a high Isp and reusable rockets & components that return to Earth after a launch operation to further reduce those debris hazards. These practices also contribute to a minimal impact upon our environment which is another methodology that space operators need to investigate to ensure our continued earth-based safety.
We also operate a Ground Station in Europe with another coming soon, including a Tracking Station, in the MENA region.
We jointly collaborate with global partners who are developing some amazing resources that will play a major role in assisting with the management of space resources and collision avoidance.