Impact of Space Debris, 50 Years after Space Age

Building and launching satellites is all fun. But, after it has surpassed its usefulness it basically stays there in orbit. There are a few things that can be done to ensure that satellites are de-orbited after use.

India’s own space debris policy was presented in a paper in the Current Science Magazine. India is a member of two organisations that deals with the problems of space debris – United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) and the Inter-Agency Space Debris Co-ordination Committee (IADC). A recent paper by V Adimurthy, M Y S Prasad and S K Shivakumar titled “Space Mission Planning and Operations”, published in the Current Science magazine in Vol. 93 No. 12, had this to say on the topic:

In the design of PSLV final stage, which uses earth-storable liquid propellants, a propellant venting system has been designed. ISRO’s launch vehicle, GSLV, also employs passivation of the cryogenic upper stage at the end of its useful mission. In the operational phase, the last stage of PSLV has been  passivated beginning with PSLV-C4, which was successfully launched in September 2002. With the implementation of this passivation, the possibility of on-orbit fragmentation has been minimized in all the future flights of PSLV. India’s launch vehicles, PSLV and GSLV, and the satellites IRS, INSAT and GSAT series are designed in such a way that no  operational debris is created in the launch and deployment phases of the mission.

That seems to be pretty comprehensive. The paper further states that most of the Indian satellites are re-robited “on a case-by-case basis, consistent with national service requirements”. ISRO also has developed a space debris proximity analysis software that it uses regularily to keep a watch on currently active satellites, planning launch windows and launches with minimum debris and study the break-up fragmentation during launch.

BBC World Service (radio) is broadcasting a series called One Planet. The topic for this week is Space Debris.

Go to the above link for an audio preview. You can also generally listen to the show online but it’s not as fun as listening to it on radio is much more fun.

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