Space Pollution: The Kessler Syndrome

What is the Kessler Syndrome?

The Kessler syndrome (also called the Kessler effectcollisional cascading, or ablation cascade), proposed by NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978, is a theoretical scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) due to space pollution is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade in which each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions. One implication is that the distribution of debris in orbit could render space activities and the use of satellites in specific orbital ranges difficult for many generations.

IEEE article of 2012 – We’ve Already Passed the Tipping Point for Orbital Debris:

“The longer we wait, the tougher and more expensive it will be to safeguard satellites.”

“In some of the most congested regions of low earth orbit, this point was actually passed more than 10 years ago, although the onslaught of chain-reaction collisions will likely take decades to pick up steam. As a result, the threat of this potentially catastrophic domino effect has remained largely invisible. We’ve seen only one bellwether: the violent collision in 2009 of an active Iridium communications satellite with a derelict Russian payload called Cosmos 2251.”

“That one accident created thousands of fragments big enough to be seen by ground-based radar antennas, as well as tens of thousands other pieces of debris that could damage satellites but are too small to detect and avoid. You might think such an unexpected and dramatic event would have spurred the aerospace community into action. But while the event did create some temporary interest and a slew of conferences and policy discussions, it didn’t result in meaningful change to the way orbital debris is handled.”

Space trash – a risk and concern:

In a Telecompetitor article, 6/12/20 by Joan Engebretson, space trash is mentioned as a risk and concern affecting broadband service delivered from low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. This is according to a new report from CoBank Knowledge Exchange, a unit of rural broadband lender CoBank.

The article refers to the Kessler syndrome, which CoBank defines as “a theoretical scenario where the density of LEO satellites reaches a critical mass leading to a chain reaction of collisions creating more debris leading to more collisions.” The researchers cite an Amazon FCC filing stating that if 10% of Amazon satellites were to fail in orbit, there would be a 12% chance that one of them could collide with a piece of space debris. With a 5% failure rate, the collision risk would drop to 6%.

Amazon is planning for much lower failure rates, according to the researchers. They add, though, that “this is yet another headwind the industry needs to overcome.”

More and more satellites:

•The Starlink constellation growing is growing fast

•Sateliot will invest approx. $5.1m to allow the deployment and proper functioning of its nanosatellite constellation. This is the first phase of a larger project of more than $22.5m, which represents the largest R&D investment in the field of 5G satellite in the European Union.

Nanosatellites are very small: according to NASA, “in terms of mass, a nanosat or nanosatellite is anything that weighs between 1 and 10 kilograms”

•Amazon’s Project Kuiper

How the Kessler Syndrome can end all space exploration and destroy modern life:

An increasingly likely catastrophe can cause major disruptions in space flight and our daily lives.

PAUL RATNER 29 August, 2018

Exploring space is one of humanity’s most hopeful activities. By going out into the great unknown of the Universe, we hope to extend our reach, find new resources and life forms, while solving many of our earthly problems. But going to space is not something to take for granted—it can actually become impossible. There is a scenario, called the Kessler Syndrome, that can cause the end of all space exploration and dramatically impact our daily lives.

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