back to article FYI: Mind how you go. We're more or less oblivious to 75% of junk in geosynchronous orbits around Earth

Three quarters of the orbital debris floating among satellites in geosynchronous orbits around Earth is not being tracked, an astronomical survey has revealed. The small bits of space junk identified by the study are often overlooked; they’re faint, small, and in a region that’s monitored less intensively than low-Earth orbit …

  1. macjules Silver badge

    Review rewritten

    Harmless

    Mostly Harmless

    Garbage

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    Pikies in Spaaaace

    If there was some way to monetise or add value to space junk, someone will find a way to get the stuff. Considering the potential cost of damaging funtional space craft there must be a value to collecting or dumping the stuff into atmosphere, it's a case of balancing cost and benefit.

    Perhaps Muskie can develop a reusable space going scrap barge.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Pikies in Spaaaace

      I'm not going to downvote you but/because you probably don't know that pikie is a racial slur. You wouldn't use any other racial slur in a post, I know because I read your posts here.

      I clicked on this to make a joke about dangerous dumping near me but that's always respectable white people dumping white goods. I know because I caught them using a drone, footage of which I passed to the council. The council said it was illegal for me to use a drone within 50m of a person, but the dumpers weren't there when it started!

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Pikies in Spaaaace

      Not Muskie ("Dag nabit"*) but Harry "I wanna build a spaceship, go to the Moon, salvage all the junk that's up there, bring it back and sell it."Broderick.

      *Really showing my age there!

    3. swm Silver badge

      Re: Pikies in Spaaaace

      If we ever build an L4 or L5 colony this stuff could be useful.

  3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    Vaporise in situ?

    Using a laser?

    The problem is US/Russia/China using it as an opportunity to sneak in offensive military hardware into space.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Vaporise in situ?

      If you vapourise something in space then wouldn't it then turn into a cloud of metal vapour and then resolidify again when the laser is turned off?

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Vaporise in situ?

      laser brooms work on the principle of ablating stuff in LEO to slow it down and making it fall low enough to catch the atmosphere within days

      That far out, a laser broom would take centuries to bring down any items

      This is space tug territory

  4. Dave Pickles

    At least everything is in the same orbit

    The satellites and junk are all orbiting the Earth in the same plane, so the relative velocity of any collision will be very low.

    1. Magani
      Alien

      Re: At least everything is in the same orbit

      ...so the relative velocity of any collision will be very low

      For some rather large values of 'very low'?

      According to Mr W. Pedia, "...however, the presence of satellites in eccentric orbits allows for collisions at up to 4 km/s."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: At least everything is in the same orbit

        Up to. Yes. But the distribution of the orbits (and relative speeds) and hence average threat is likely to be significantly different to the situation in e.g. LEO.

        Of course, even the average threat might be significant. I personally wouldn't like a bullet hit at 0.4 km/s any more than 4 km/s. (Well I might learn to appreciate the slower speed afterwards depending on where it hit but you know what I mean.)

    2. tfb Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: At least everything is in the same orbit

      That's true fir stuff that actually is in geosynchronous orbit. It's not true for objects which only pass through. (I now see someone said this already, so I feel even more stupid than usual at this time on Sunday.)

  5. ThatOne Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Oh look, they used a telescope!

    > The team used the Isaac Newton Telescope in the Canary Islands to detect the space junk

    They'd better do it quickly, before endless sheets of Internet satellites make terrestrial telescope observations near impossible...

    .

    (Yes, yes, I know, Hubble could so such a fine job at it since it's just a few kilometers below geosynchronous orbit. Just send an ultra-wide-angle lens up to it, preferably of the clip-on variety. /s)

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Oh look, they used a telescope!

      It occurs to me, that anyone who figures out a way of hoovering up space junk would also have the means to remove anything that is obscuring their view.

  6. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Shoot the litter

    Maybe a satellite with a smart gun could sit a little further out there and shoot the litter drifting by to knock it out of a geosynchronous orbit and get vaporized?

    1. Imhotep Silver badge

      Re: Shoot the litter

      It might be a little difficult to justify to people that can't see the difference between that and a satellite designed to kill other satellites.

    2. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Shoot the litter

      The ISS launched a "Borg cube" built by Surrey Space Centre equipped with a titanium harpoon, a laser ranger and a Kevlar net.

      Disappointingly they named it RemoveDEBRIS.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Shoot the litter

        > equipped with a titanium harpoon, a laser ranger and a Kevlar net

        And how many space whales did it catch?

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Shoot the litter

          None, but curiously it did catch a bowl of geraniums.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Shoot the litter

            Not again!...

  7. DS999 Silver badge

    The debris can't actually be in a geosynchronous orbit

    If it was, it would maintain the same relative position over the Earth, just like GSO satellites do. OK, it isn't exactly fixed since the Earth isn't exactly a sphere, they do little figure 8s over a range of a few miles. But if there is debris at say 90W it would only ever potentially affect satellites assigned to 90W and even then only if their figure 8 bounding boxes overlapped.

    Only debris in a somewhat elliptical orbit so it can cross the GSO plane in different spots is of true concern, since it could potentially affect any satellite over any spot in the world if it happens to cross the GSO plane at the wrong time.

    1. 96percentchimp

      Re: The debris can't actually be in a geosynchronous orbit

      Not true. Geostationary satellites have to perform station-keeping manouevres to maintain their figure-8 box. Older satellites are often allowed to develop inclined orbits, which from the ground appear to oscillate above and below the equator. This saves fuel but can be tracked by suitable ground stations, and allows the satellites to communicate with ground stations in polar latitudes which are usually out of sight. Such debris would periodically cross the bounding box of a satellite on station at GEO.

      Any event which creates debris is also likely to impart energy which would cause the debris to drift east or west around GEO, potentially affecting other orbital positions. Look up Galaxy 15, a rogue Intelsat bird which drifted around the belt for several months in 2010: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_15.

  8. Gene Cash Silver badge

    This is decades-old news

    This sort of stuff left deep pits in the Shuttle windows. They did spectrographic analysis and determined it was other spacecraft fragments.

    It's also been known this is below the softball or golfball size of stuff you can track with radar.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is decades-old news

      The Shuttle never went anywhere near geosynchronous orbit (the topic of the article) though.

  9. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Kessler syndrome

    There is a very well written portrait of Donald Kessler in The New Yorker just now. Unfortunately they've stuffed it into a terrible web design.

    [Off topic but the New York Times currently has the best designed web article just now, a portrait of Albrecht Dürer, the inventor of the selfie]

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    One wonders what the future of satellites and space explorations is going to be...

    Considering that in not quite 60 years mankind has increasingly filled up Earth orbit with dangerous debris. It's both a case of people using orbital space as a commons, so they don't take responsibility for maintaining it or using it wisely. That, plus the "chicken and egg" problem that relying on chemical rockets, we don't have an efficient way to launch things into orbit, so between that and general costs we launch satellites that are as light as possible, and there is no economical way to launch missions to clean up orbital debris. As you can see from the article, the lightly constructed satellites break up more readily, so they shed more debris, which cause more danger of structural damage to still more lightly constructed satellites, and so on, and so on.

    I have NO idea what it will be, but we need a way to get out of Earth's gravity well much more efficiently than chemical rockets. Until then, we are going to keep putting more junk into orbit than we can remove from orbit.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: One wonders what the future of satellites and space explorations is going to be...

      I fully agree with your gist ("Not in my Low Earth Orbit!) but it's actually the biggest objects that are the greatest risk and the priority to clean up - just because their collisions make much more debris.

    2. Homeboy

      Re: One wonders what the future of satellites and space explorations is going to be...

      We clearly need to build an orbital tower.

      Now all we need is a gazillions tons of something really, really strong.

      1. pop_corn

        Re: One wonders what the future of satellites and space explorations is going to be...

        > "We clearly need to build an orbital tower."

        I assume you mean an orbital tower with space elevator? It's a fine idea, that will never happen.

        Even assuming it could be physically built (extremely unlikely) when the risk of it breaking leads to it whipping around the earth, destroying everything it collides with, it will never be acceptable.

      2. swm Silver badge

        Re: One wonders what the future of satellites and space explorations is going to be...

        And what happens when the space debris hits the space tower? I believe that such a tower would intersect orbits of all of the low Earth crud.

    3. 96percentchimp

      Re: One wonders what the future of satellites and space explorations is going to be...

      The problem isn't chemical rockets, it's the single-use paradigm which throws waste into space and makes launch incredibly expensive.

      Hopefully, SpaceX is paving the way for reusable launchers which will make launches less messy and make it cheap enough to put debris-recovery systems into orbit. Of course, they'll also make it easier to put more crap into orbit...

  11. Winkypop Silver badge
    Alien

    Year 50,534, onboard interstellar ship Faaaaark

    Alien commander: Science officer, why do you think there used to be a sentient race here?

    Science officer: They left their shit everywhere.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Year 50,534, onboard interstellar ship Faaaaark

      Technically we threw our shit everywhere, kind of like angry chimps.

      If you read that New Yorker article one of the most beautiful sights in space is the golden snowflakes of frozen urine from previous missions.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. ian 22

    However, urine is not shit. /pedantically

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