5/07/2007

Space Junk, government responsibility and avoiding the Kessler Effect...





FT.com / Asia-Pacific / China - China cancels space waste meeting




The most interesting book I have read as of late was Chalmers Johnson's most recent release Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, and one issue that he addresses in his typical no-nonsense style is the idea that the space race is quickly becoming an arms race, which is a development that could have catastrophic implications on our abilities to utilize low-earth orbit for civilian purposes. The book was published before the Chinese government's recent experiment using an anti-satellite missile to destroy an aging weather satellite, which has undoubtedly created more space junk than any other incident in the history of human space exploration. However, I have no doubt that the recent decision by the CCP to delay discussions aimed at curbing the long-term side effects of increasing human exploration of that which lies beyond our world, would draw the ire of Professor Johnson.




If you are looking for an optimistic vision of the world in 2025, Chalmers Johnson's book should be at the bottom of your list, as his assessment of the current geopolitical situation and the prospects for US success under the current Administration's policies concerning just about everything, could understandably give rise to thoughts of imminent doom for humanity. Johnson's hatred of the Bush White House is clearly his driving inspiration as he writes this half-history, half-prophecy about the gradual demise of the American Republic, that I suspect he would be swiftly ushered out of the area were he spotted at a presidential function. However, I could not help but think throughout that Johnson is probably succumbing to the same myopic syndrome that has gripped many aging intellectuals during this age of uncertainty; consumed by apocalyptic visions of a world never to be truly known not fully understood by a man of the 20th century in any reasonable sense.



In his discussion on the implications of neglecting the increases in space debris Johnson draws upon the ideas of physicists who have issued theories about the unintended consequences of human space exploration.


"Weaponization of space would make the debris problem much worse, and even one war in space could encase the entire planet in a shell of whizzing debris that would thereafter make space near the Earth a highly hazardous for peaceful as well as military purposes....Joel Primack (professor of physics UC Santa Cruz, further observes that the density of debris is already so great at the 900 to 1000 kilometer altitude (938 to 1063 miles) that pieces of junk colliding with each other could set of a chain reaction or cascade of collisions- the Kessler Effect, predicted mathematically in the 1970's by the NASA scientist Donald Kessler- that would make the zone useless." (Nemesis 217-218)

Chalmers JohnsonImage via WikipediaJohnson is at this point in the book detailing the current developments in the international space race, particularly the weaponisation of space and means available to governments for disposing of old dead satellites which have died out of the marketplace and need to bed retired/destroyed. In general Johnson's arguments are very intriguing because when he examines an issue he tries to wear the glasses of his colleagues from every different element/community within the greater scientific debate.




Ever since reading Johnson's dire predictions for the future of mankind, I began pondering the ways in which space junk could be effectively cleaned up using innovative strategies for trapping or forcibly slowing material so as to cause it to fall out of orbit. A few weeks ago I had the idea of launching what would essentially be a huge pin cushion, which could be moved into the path of orbiting space junk in an effort to capture the material permanently and remove it from its dangerous and unpredictable orbit. I began writing a post about my idea when I stumbled upon this article in Wired Magazine, Houston, We Have a Trash Problem, which profiles six different projects currently under development at American research universities and NASA facilities. Sure enough, the first solution listed is basically my concept exactly.







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