The New Space RAC(e)

The UK government has recently announced plans for a recovery service in space, in order to tackle the exponential crisis of space debris. This new 'RAC' in space has already been handed millions in funding, suggesting that we may finally be reaching an age of governments finally taking the issue seriously. Indeed, Science Minister George Freeman has also released a message (which, in reality is more of a stern warning) aimed at the likes of China and Russia, stating that "the days of putting up whatever they want have got to be over".


Rather excitingly, this vision of sustainability and communi hominum patrimonium is all part of a bigger picture, with Mr. Freeman affirming that "London can become the capital of space insurance and industry", and reminding us of London's lead in Shipping regulations during the 17th century and Automative regulations in the 20th century.


Before we get carried away with ourselves, there is ,however, one rather large elephant in the room: the overwhelming correlation between number of satellites in space and the amount of space debris. These are, of course, at odds with the idea of being the centre of the space industry. As anyone who has read my articles on this matter may well know, largely as a consequence of the wisdom of Dr. McDowell imparted on me, as the number of satellites increases ten-fold, the amount of space debris is actually multiplied by the power of 100. Currently, we have over 9,900 tonnes of objects in orbit, and well over 131 MILLION pieces of space debris in orbit. Inevitably, this means that collisions are more frequent than one would expect (take, for example, the amount of times the ISS has had to manoeuvre out of the path of Chinese and Russian space debris over the last year, and the amount of times vital equipment on the ISS has been damaged as a result of these collisions). This is greatly exaccerbated by the plans laid down by the likes of SpaceX (who want to increase their satellite numbers ten-fold) and Rwanda (who filed with the ITU last year to launch 327,000 satellites); and this at a time when we simply don't have the space for more satellites to be launched safely. So, this goes back to the original point of a cleaner space initiative being a necessary part of the development of the space industry.


However, here is another problem. We constantly narrate the failings and flagrantly reckless behaviour of other countries' behaviour in space, yet we are soon to be launching our own satellites from our own soil (through the "Prometheus 2" mission), with plans to launch hundreds more over the coming years in order to have our own version of the EU's Galileo system. And so, the point is that we can't have have our cake AND eat it, we can't condemn others for contributing to the horror show which is space debris in orbit and then actively contribute to worsening it at the same time. Of course, we all support the UK having their own satellites, but I do think it important for not only us as a nation, but also us as a race, to focus firstly on cleaning up space; and that especially means no more Tesla's in space. Until we can all do our bit to clean up the debris in space, whether that be through a space 'RAC' or otherwise, we needn't be concerning ourselves with pollution space even more so.


To end, I must make it clear for those who aren't aware, space debris isn't just a space problem: it's an Earth problem. With every passing month, the probability of a debris collision wiping out satellites, GPS and TV signals, internet and phone signals etc etc increases, and fairly rapidly at that. Not only this, but more and more frequently, space debris is finding its way back to Earth without burning up on re-entry into the atmosphere. This, of course, then poses a serious threat to us on the ground, as well as to other species and our material possessions. If one would like to see a very recent example of debris re-entering our atmosphere without burning up, I would suggest you seek out the video of Chinese rocket CZ-2F (artifical oblide #SPMN200622ART) over Spain at 22:30 UTC, as captured from Estepa by AJ Robles, as this video is a very clear indication and demonstration of what is happening and what will continue to happen, but at an exponential rate.

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