What happens to a satellite that has reached the end of its path? Unlike objects that can be thrown in the bin (regular or recycling bin) – the satellite is in space, and flying there is not a cheap thing.
The European Space Agency estimates that 3,600 operational satellites share their orbits with 9,200 tons of space debris. It is estimated that 28,200 objects of debris navigate their space without any control. With more than 10,000 satellites planned to be launched into orbit over the next ten years, there is an immediate need for proactive waste disposal strategies, especially the disposal of end-of-life satellites.
Recently, we are experiencing an increase in the use of satellites for Internet communications by companies, similar to the Starlink venture of billionaire Elon Musk. “When there are many active satellites in space, along with a lot of satellite garbage, a potentially dangerous situation is created,” said Astroscale Israel CEO Arie Halzband, one of Israel’s pioneers in the space industry. Which leads to further splits. If not monitored, the situation could explode. “There is a fear of such events and cases such as a collision of satellites in space – which creates clouds of huge particles.”
According to him, there is a fear that this matter will not allow the use of space at a certain point. “The idea of cleaning the space is considered revolutionary, because in fact a private person comes and says – I will step into the shoes of the authorities, and collect the garbage in the outer space,” says Helzband. “Our satellite collects particles and basically cleans the space, when there is also the possibility of extending the life of the active satellites. All the major space agencies are dealing with the issue, and the final model will be the collection of space junk.”
How is this actually done? – “This is a difficult process, because it involves an infinity of parts in different shapes, which rotate in space and need to be collected. In the experiment we did, the satellite actually collects the particles next to it, about 20 cm in size. The collection is done just like a hook in these toy machines in the mall, with the help of magnetic parts of the satellite. It’s a complex process, no one has actually done it to date. “
What do you do next with the garbage collected? “It is lowered into the atmosphere and thrown into it at a low altitude. At this altitude in space there is an atmosphere of particles attracted by the Earth’s magnetic field at high density, and they are basically like a drag to an airplane. “The satellite thing falls into areas that are more or less marked as empty, for example the South Pacific.”
“It’s a huge area, which is relatively empty, and the agencies want to aim there. In any case, most of the parts are burned on the way, and those that are not reach the sea. These areas become a kind of ‘cemetery for satellite parts.'”