Gravity was a popular movie. It was lots of fun, except for one thing: it’s going to happen. Statistically, it’s going to happen.
The governments of the world have known this for over 35 years.
Maybe you have heard of the tragedy of the commons. It’s where a valuable asset is not owned. There is no incentive to conserve it. There is great incentive to use it, since it’s free. The result is pollution.
Outer space is free. The various gravity belts that serve as satellite real estate are free.
These orbits are gigantic space dumps. Dead satellites don’t get sent to the vast beyond. They stay there, at 17,000 miles an hour, waiting to hit another satellite. When one of them does . . . boom. Then there are lots more pieces of junk.
In atomic bombs, it’s called a chain reaction. In space, it’s called the Kessler effect.
The Kessler effect is named after NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler, who wrote about it in 1978. It is a scenario in which the density of objects in low earth orbit gets larger over time, so that that a collision between objects causes a cascade. Each collision produces more space debris, which in turn increases the likelihood of further collisions.
This is a domino effect. Collisions between objects of sizable mass produce thousands of pieces of debris. This shrapnel can then hit other objects. Remember: it’s 17,000 miles an hour. A small piece of debris at this speed is like a tiny canon ball. The canon ball produces more canon balls.
Every satellite, space probe, and manned mission has the potential of becoming space debris. A cascading Kessler effect becomes statistically more likely as satellites in orbit increase in number, and old satellites become inoperative.
Telecommunications rely on satellite transmissions. The Internet relies on satellite transmissions. That’s why it’s called “the cloud.”
One day, without warning: boom. Boom boom. Boom boom boom. All silent in outer space.
As George Clooney said in the movie: “Half of North America just lost their Facebook.”
It might be all of North America . . . and everywhere else.
What is the federal government’s solution? A gigantic boondoggle called the “Space Fence.” It isn’t a fence. It’s a $6 billion radar system that will monitor a tiny fraction of the space junk.
One piece of junk, no larger than your thumb, can produce the Kessler effect. At 17,000 miles an hour, the little canon ball has tremendous force. But the “Space Fence” cannot monitor this size canon ball.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)