Peter Beck, founder and CEO of aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab said that their company is starting to feel increasing outer space congestion.
In an interview with CNN Business, Beck said that the number of human-made objects in space, including satellites and debris, makes it difficult for rockets to find a clear area to launch additional satellites.
"This has a massive impact on the launch side," Beck commented, adding the need for rockets to "try and weave their way up" between the satellite constellations in space.
Inintal results show in theory, If you operated many thousands of satellites in LEO and were constantly and randomly moving them you could deny all launch to popular orbits as today's models and regulations would likely fail to converge conjunctions. There is work to do here. https://t.co/p94i1BGLaO — Peter Beck (@Peter_J_Beck) October 8, 2020
The Kessler syndrome, also known as the Kessler effect or ablation cascade, is a theoretical scenario first proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978. He suggested that space pollution, characterized by increased concentration of objects in low Earth orbit, would create increasing collisions instances - even creating a domino effect of space object collisions. One of its most popular implications is that this space junk would make future space activities more difficult, as Beck shared.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) - a nonprofit group of professional scientists and private volunteers that advocate using science to solve the world's most pressing problems - there are about 2,787 satellites that currently orbit our planet as of August 1, 2020. Covering space launches as recently as July 31, the United States has the lion's share with 1,425 operational satellites, followed by China with 382, and Russia with 172. This does not include space debris, such as discarded parts from previous space missions.
To provide an example, Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX has launched its Starlink project. The satellite constellation aims to provide Internet connection through a combination of smallsats working with ground receivers. Since it began in 2018, SpaceX has deployed more than 500 satellites as of July 2020 and plans to deploy more to reach its goal of a 12,000-satellite network.
Increasing Risks of Collisions
According to Moriba Jah, an astrodynamicist from the University of Texas and an expert in the growing space traffic has created AstriaGraph - a database of moving objects in space designed to track potential collisions. It is equipped with a chart that visualizes the objects that come within six miles of each other, updated three times per hour.
Jah also said that the Starlink satellites orbit at a lower altitude from the densely packed areas, estimated by NASA to be between 400 to 650 miles from the surface.
Beck expressed frustration that the conversation about the increasing volume of man-made objects in orbit is focused on the risks of a collision between items in orbit, and not as much attention is given to how the sheer number of these objects adversely affect the launch business - Rocket Lab's business includes a "ridesharing" service for other companies looking to send their satellites to space.
"It's just a race to orbit, and there's just zero consideration for what environment we'll leave behind," Beck said. Rocket Lab launched its own internal investigation to better understand the problem with growing space objects, and the effect it has on their own company.
Check out more news and information on Space Debris in Science Times.