back to article FCC floats 'five-year rule' for hoovering up space junk

The US Federal Communications Commission wants to shrink a current requirement for space operators to pull their equipment from low Earth orbit from within 25 years to just five years, according to new rules published yesterday. The new "five-year rule" would require [PDF] space station operators planning to dispose of their …

  1. Peter2 Silver badge

    It makes sense given the sheer number of things being shoved into low orbit. And given how low orbit they are, the inclusion of a single burn solid rocket booster to drastically reduce the remaining time in orbit shouldn't be that difficult.

    1. stiine Silver badge

      It would take more than a rocker motor. They'd also have to have a guidance computer for that motor.

      I wonder if it would be possible for SpaceX to put a net/grapple/magnet on a cable attached to their 2nd stage and attempt to snag, and then de-orbit, a piece of space junk?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        >It would take more than a rocker motor. They'd also have to have a guidance computer for that motor.

        Guidance software:

        1: rocket point forward,

        2: rocket burn until rocket runs out or rocket burns up

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Exactly. Any satellite without a guidance and positioning system isn't really going to be all that much use. Empty steering jet fuel tanks or worn out gyros are the life limiting factors, barring other operation failures. Using the last of the steering ability to point a SRB in the right direction at the right moment shouldn't be too hard. Making sure that a one shot SRB can sit in space for years and still work might be a little more difficult.

    2. IvyKing

      My recollection is that SpaceX is experimenting with a streamer to greatly increase drag of the satellite at end of life. the streamer is supposed to be able to de-orbit the satellite within a month after it is deployed. Advantage is that no guidance system is needed.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Not just SpaceX. Terminator-tapes/deorbit tethers have been proposed for decades but for a long time nobody wanted to pay for having that extra mass on the vehicle. It's not until recently that serious research into their function has been happening

        https://aerospaceamerica.aiaa.org/year-in-review/space-tethers-demonstrate-deorbit-capability/

        https://phys.org/news/2020-01-cubesat-deployed-de-orbiting-tether-altitude.html

  2. Sixtiesplastictrektableware

    Point Avoider

    What bums me out is even if we did the rightmost thing, some group of idiots would weaponize the endeavour, screw up nice things like GPS or rural connectivity for short term profit and generally make things dumb.

    Still, y'gotta try, dammit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Point Avoider

      I imagine you're right because I'm now under the belief that people should design and build their own satellites, which thanks to many new open schematics, it is only a matter of money, not difficulty. Yes, I also mean people should launch their own satellites, which is where things become interesting. Fuck it though, let everyone play up there.

      I hope to one day launch a completely autonomous satellite designed for the search and destruction of all other satellites. I don't care about your 5G, your GPS, your emergency services bullshit... all I care about is destroying all your fake ass satellites and becoming the sole orbiter.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Point Avoider

        Thank you, Kim JungiUn, for clarifying your stance on space. Something we suspected anyway of course.

  3. Timbo

    Irresponsible satellite operators?

    It seems to me that there has been a complete lack of "accepting responsibility" from both governments and private operators with regards to de-orbiting any of their "birds" once a mission ends.

    Whlle it might cost millions of $$ to build and then launch a satellite into orbit, very little thought has been given to including in the "build budget" a few extra $$ to actually make a "controlled re-entry" at the appropriate time...

    And in the meantime future missions are being compromised by all this junk in NEO.

    It seems to me that any future satellite operator should either build-in a "working" de-orbiting system...or maybe lodge suitable funds with an Earth based company, who will then co-ordinate the de-orbiting of the now-defunct satellite....and perhaps such a mission could de-orbit a number of similar "targets" (in similar orbits) making the cost of de-orbiting each bird cheaper...?

    1. EricB123 Bronze badge

      Re: Irresponsible satellite operators?

      Probably the same chain of events that got our oceans chock full of single use plastics.

  4. Arty Effem

    Vacuum cleaners don't work in space.

    1. Oglethorpe

      You could accurately describe a machine for removing space junk as a 'vacuum cleaner'.

    2. Alumoi Silver badge
      Joke

      Dark Helmet and Spaceball One would like to have a few words with you.

  5. IceC0ld

    quick overview on whether this will become the new reality :-

    Will it cost the launch teams / owners MORE $$$

    if YES - then the odds of it being taken up are slim

    if NO - then the odds of it being taken up are slim

    the reality is that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    applies up there as much as down here

    and even though we are talking about stuff that IS actually broken, safe to say, if it adds to costs, it will stay as is :o(

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      That is why we need rules and regulations like this. If the US sets the precedent it's likely more countries will follow. If just the US and EU set these rules that's most of the market cornered (either through launch providers setting the rules or the owners of the infrastructure. In future we might want to convince India and China to follow suit but contrary to popular belief those people aren't stupid and will probably see the value in setting similar rules. They have the equipment to get the mass up there, so it wouldn't be too much of a hindrance in terms of just being able to gain the benefits of spaceflight.

  6. Dinanziame Silver badge
    Boffin

    There's money in cleaning up space

    Scrooge McDuck was on the job in 1985 already!

    https://www.bedetheque.com/BD-Super-Picsou-Geant-Tome-10-Numero-10-56638.html

  7. imanidiot Silver badge

    Not hypothetical

    "As we pointed out at the time, the issue of space debris is broader than what happens on the ground, because if a defunct satellite smashed into another one, or broke apart, the debris could tear into other satellites and potentially create a runaway chain reaction called the Kessler effect. ®"

    There are some who would argue (and some incidents as evidence to support this idea) that we are already seeing the beginning blows of a Kessler cascade and if we don't tackle the problem soon-ish we'll have BIG problems in the future

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Topics like this always end up reminding me of the old (1979) US TV series Salvage 1.

  9. Jude Bradley

    Interesting, Gerry Anderson's U.F.O series saw this as a problem way back in 1969.

    https://ufoseries.fandom.com/wiki/Conflict_(UFO:_The_Series_episode)

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