Within a year, Astroscale plans to begin a complex series of demonstrations to show the startup’s spacecraft can grab a piece of space debris and dispose of it in the atmosphere.
Increasingly, space industry and government officials suggest the guidelines, adopted in 2002, no longer make sense in light of plans for constellations comprised of hundreds or thousands of satellites.
While the concept of constellation is not new, the challenges connected to operating hundreds of spacecraft at the same time are yet to be fully understood.
Intelsat’s first Epic-series high-throughput satellite, Intelsat-29e, is drifting in orbit after back-to-back anomalies, forcing the company to shift customers to other spacecraft.
The Air Force Space Command’s 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, continues to track the cloud of space debris caused by India’s March 27 missile launch aimed at one of its own satellites in low Earth orbit.
Spacecraft and debris tracking is a serious problem that is about to get worse as companies prepare to send hundreds or thousands of satellites into megaconstellations, said Paul Graziani, Analytical Graphics Inc. chief executive and co-founder.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission pressed forward with plans to firm up its rules about space safety and orbital debris Nov. 15 while at the same time questioning whether it is the right agency to do so.
It’s no secret the megaconstellations will have a dramatic impact on space traffic. Experts now are turning their attention to ensuring they don’t also create a dangerous spike in orbital debris.
“Clearing all the debris out of LEO is expensive,” said DARPA's Fred Kennedy. “That’s what I fear. That this takes us to a place where I don’t know if it’s affordable.”
The implementation and enforcement of space traffic management (STM) policies and regulations will be extremely complex and expensive for governments of spacefaring nations and all users of the near-Earth space domain.
Even if a company obtains government permission to collect a defunct satellite or spent rocket stage in orbit, the project raises legal questions.
Despite the pressing need for intervention and technology approaching maturity, it has been difficult to gather wide public consensus and deploy a maiden active debris removal mission.