Pollution in Space: High-Risk Debris

Addressing vulnerability and promoting security
Posted May 21, 2021 | Ideas for Development, Nicolas Bobrinsky

There are more than 30,000 objects over 10 cm long in space, mainly in low orbit where there are satellites used for Earth observation or the Internet network, but also in geostationary orbit, 36,000 km above the Earth, where satellites are used for television, communications and weather observation. Nicolas Bobrinsky warns in this article for Ideas for Development that if the orbits become more saturated, it could compromise their use by humans. The United Nations has issued international recommendations to limit the proliferation of debris. Satellites now have a maximum lifespan of 25 years, after which they must be destroyed in the Earth’s atmosphere or retired in a “parking” orbit. These rules are not binding, but they are largely respected today. Several times a month, avoidance maneuvers are conducted when a risk is identified, making automation and artificial intelligence-based techniques essential to allow satellites to define their avoidance strategy autonomously.



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