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  • Kesslerís Syndrome

    Kesslerís Syndrome

    "Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

    The above not withstanding bits of it are more equal than others (with apologies to Orwell) and we (man) are endangering some of the bits that are most important to us. Which brings us to the Kesslerís Syndrome. This is not some emerging zoonotic or intergalactic pathogen but a runaway chain reaction involving space debris. On the face of it this may seem a strange subject for this site and of only tangential relevance but if you will bare with me I will try and show that it is becoming one of those everyday things we take for granted but which have the potential to undergo a catastrophic failure with wide ranging and potential dire consequences. This is a concept FluTracker regulars should find very familiar. As there is no earthly reason why you should know very much about rocket science or satellite orbits I have written a short introduction in the box at the end with a number of links for greater detail. If you are happy with the Jargon skip it, if not read it now.
    Kesslerís warning relates to the LEO but with the importance of the GEO orbit the same could apply to both. If a satellite is hit - or worse still explodes - it many produce many high speed pieces of space junk, if there are enough satellites and other pieces of space junk in the vicinity a chain reaction can destroy all satellites in that orbital region and leave a dense debris field rendering any further attempts to enter orbit extremely hazardous. This could bar us from entering space for 1000s of years. Unlike criticality in a Uranium fission reaction where 3 neutrons are released and at least one needs to impact with a fissile nucleus for the reaction to be sustained, here an impact could produce none or tens of thousands of debris pieces making it much less predictable. About a year ago China decided to hit one of their defunct satellites with a projectile in a test Ė this test doubled the debris field in that LEO orbital area (the NY Times has an excellent graphic showing how in just a few days this had distributed itself all around the globe. Also shows a Hubble solar panel with all of its hits - Links below). The US has now hit one of their failed spy satellites with a rocket. (They claim to prevent danger to humans from Hydrazine fuel but a quick look at N2H4 will show this as miscible with water, has freezing and boiling points similar to water and a 3-3-3 NFPA 704 rating so not exactly a major threat to survive re-entry nor to life on the ground if some of it does)
    The principles are all fairly simple Ďfor every action there is an equal and opposite reactioní so when a rocket goes up Ė or sideways - propellent is ejected at speed in the opposite direction. Getting a Kg of payload into orbit requires enormouse amounts of energy and the higher the orbit the more energy required (Delta-v is a measure of the energy required to move from one state to another). The most popular orbits are low earth (LEO - because they are cheapest to achieve) and Geosynchronous/Geostatioanry (GES/GEO as they allow station keeping above a fixed ground position at a minimal fuel requirement). Kinetic Energy is calculated as the product of mass & velocity; in the absence of air resistance velocities are high, typically 10km/sec, at these speeds a 3mm particle would pack the same punch as a bowling ball at 100km/hr. The atmoshere has no clear top it just thins into space, 75% is within the first 11km and re-entry effects can be noticed from about 120km but to be totally clear of all atmosphere 10,000km is about right. A bodies gravitational effects are taken to act from it centre of gravity (in the earthís case this is the middle of the core) and fall off in line with the reverse square law. The distance to the Earthís surface is 6370km. From the surface LEO covers 160 to 2000km with GEO at 35,794km (other sites of interest: International Space Station ISS 500km, GPS 20,230, Hubble 589km)


    Position Paper on Space Debris Mitigation
    Implementing Zero Debris Creation Zones
    http://iaaweb.org/iaa/Studies/spacedebrismitigation.pdf

    The Military Use of Space
    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/postpn273.pdf

    US 'to shoot down spy satellite'
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7245578.stm
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7256741.stm

    The military uses of space
    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/postpn273.pdf

    Impact suspected for loss of Russian satellite
    http://space.newscientist.com/article/dn8934-impact-suspected-for-loss-of-russian-satellite.html

    Debris Mitigation Improves, but More Work Urged
    http://www.space.com/spacenews/archive06/Geo_013006.html

    Geostationary Orbit Impact Detector (GORID)
    http://esapub.esrin.esa.it/pff/pffv7n1/drov7n1.htm

    Littered Skies (NY Times animation and graphic on debris damage & distribution)
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/06/science/20070206_ORBIT_GRAPHIC.html

  • #2
    Re: Kessler’s Syndrome

    What I should have added was why this matters. My interest is largely in what we can learn about the universe from space based instruments but from this sites perspective satellites are now critical for weather forecasting (and climate change data), transport (shipping, planes &, increasingly, road transport are ever more reliant on GPS - sextant futures might be a good investment), real-time news media are all satellite dependent.

    Is this syndrome imminent: probably not but the lead times are long and the orbital debris has a long half-life so it is important to ensure all new launches and satellites are designed to minimise the dangers and that our nations militaries are stopped from adding to the problem. The IAA study, linked to in the first post, covers many of the simpler remedies (some are as simple as not painting satellites and rockets as paint is layered and brittle and can produce vast numbers of shards where a micrometeorite impact on metal won’t).
    For an example of what not to do see The Westford Needles Project.
    Last edited by JJackson; May 17th, 2015, 08:24 AM.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Kesslerís Syndrome

      Very interesting, JJ. I live in the Pacific North West, a fine place to live but, we do have weather just like everyone else. Ours has now become somewhat less predictable. An immense Pacific storm with waves towering over 75 feet rolled in to us last winter. It took out two out of three of our weather buoys. Those buoys bounced up to the minute weather data to a waiting satellite. We are now missing our weather predictions almost daily. We just don't have the info we need to make reliable predictions anymore. Frost, snow, ice storms, rain or, conversely dry when it should be wet hit us with no warning. While this was an earth based scientific instrument, it does illustrate just how dependent we are when one satellite no longer provides the information we need.
      Please do not ask me for medical advice, I am not a medical doctor.

      Avatar is a painting by Alan Pollack, titled, "Plague". I'm sure it was an accident that the plague girl happened to look almost like my twin.
      Thank you,
      Shannon Bennett

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Kesslerís Syndrome

        I am sure you are aware that data on the bouys can be accessed via the NOAA site http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/maps/Northwest.shtml including the maintainance schedule. It is surprising how many things use satellite communication. I tracked cyclone Sidr that hit Bangladesh late last year and was aware of how bad it was likely to be before it hit. What was a surprise was that the death toll was in hundreds. Pre-satellite and accurate early warning a similarly fierce storm killed 500,000 in 1970. The Tsunami warning systems use radio bouys, El Nino effect predictions are based on a combination of satellite (for surface temp.) & satellite relayed bouy data etc.

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        • #5
          Re: Kesslerís Syndrome

          JJ, the buoys were damaged beyond repair in the huge storm and are now lying on the ocean floor. They have to be replaced. No data is being transmitted at all. My point was how much we need the input from satellite relays.
          Please do not ask me for medical advice, I am not a medical doctor.

          Avatar is a painting by Alan Pollack, titled, "Plague". I'm sure it was an accident that the plague girl happened to look almost like my twin.
          Thank you,
          Shannon Bennett

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Kesslerís Syndrome

            Russian and US satellites collide

            http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7885051.stm

            and

            Sat collision highlights growing threat
            http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7885750.stm

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            • #7
              Re: Kesslerís Syndrome

              I agree with Sharon in #3:
              "Ours has now become somewhat less predictable. "

              and the whole worldwide less predictable no matter the bunch of satelites and sylicon brain machines to process the models ...

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Kessler’s Syndrome

                It is interesting that this latest, unintentional, collision has been the one to start some reflections on the Kessler's Syndrome problem.

                Space Debris: From Nuisance to Nightmare
                By Mike Moore - posted February 2009.
                When satellites collide in space, should ordinary people be worried? Here's a scenario for global doom that should have your hair standing on end.

                http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/c...?story_id=4697
                Last edited by JJackson; May 17th, 2015, 08:29 AM.

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                • #9
                  Re: Kesslerís Syndrome

                  "Space Debris: From Nuisance to Nightmare"


                  To not rushing into backup places, as the ISS crew did the day before, seems that it is much more needed an "debris eating space vehicle" ...

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                  • #10
                    Re: Kesslerís Syndrome

                    Standing watch over a crowded space

                    The BBC has written quite a good, and detailed, piece on this problem.
                    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7916582.stm

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Kesslerís Syndrome

                      Originally posted by JJackson View Post
                      Standing watch over a crowded space

                      The BBC has written quite a good, and detailed, piece on this problem.
                      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7916582.stm
                      A tricky outcome - excerpt:
                      " "If you just leave things up there, the statistics show they will start banging into each other. Eventually, you reach the point where you can't sensibly launch satellites into the orbits you want because they'll get pounded to pieces." "


                      An planetary sized human creation - an Earth-centric "asteroid" belt

                      of junk ...

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                      • #12
                        Re: Kesslerís Syndrome

                        How satellites could 'sail' home

                        This BBC article looks at employing light weight gossamer sails to increase the drag helping satellites that have finished their life burn up more quickly. If it is not mandatory it is going to be difficult to get it adopted as it will increase mass and therefore cost. The other problem is you need control of the satellite to deploy the sail which presupposes that end of life is planned rather than due to system failure.

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