Hi, my name is Michel Doyon. I work at the Canadian Space Agency in satellite operations, and I’m happy to talk to you about space debris today.
So the first question today is: “With all that space junk out there, how do future satellites and manned rockets make their way through all this debris safely?”
When you see space debris orbiting the Earth, it looks very crowded. Don’t forget, they’re not to scale compared to the Earth. This is why it looks worse than it really is because space is essentially empty.
Nonetheless, there are approximately 23,000 space objects larger that a baseball, like 10 cm or more, that are continuously monitored, tracked and on which we have a lot of information.
They travel at about at 7.5 km per second. So imagine a baseball hitting an object at that speed—it will certainly make major damages to the object. It is the same for satellites.
So when we make a launch, we make sure that the trajectory of the rocket will avoid crowded areas of debris.
Once in space, we continuously monitor the satellites as well as the debris, and we make calculations to assess the risk of collision. If the risk becomes too high, we will perform an avoidance maneuver to protect the space asset.
So what do we do to clean this up?
That’s a great question. First, it’s a global problem, and all space-faring nations are collaborating together to find solutions to resolve this problem.
In Canada, since 2005, we have had regulations requiring satellites to have a disposal plan at the end of their mission so that the object can be re-entered into the atmosphere.
To actually clean this up, there are multiple innovative ideas like “active drag” where we change the shape of the object in a way that will help it re-enter more quickly into the atmosphere and burn. We also have other ideas such as a space net. From a Canadian perspective, space robotics is a very promising technology. The idea would be to attach a robot to a servicing satellite that will then travel and grab the space debris or defunct satellite and make it re-enter into the atmosphere and burn.