Monday, July 15, 2024
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ISRO’s rocket launch delayed due to space traffic congestion

ISRO’s rocket launch delayed due to space traffic congestion

The issue of space debris has become a growing concern for space agencies and organizations worldwide, including the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). The assessment by ISRO reveals that there are approximately 27,000 cataloged space objects in Earth’s orbit, with a staggering 80 percent of these objects being space debris.

Space debris consists of defunct satellites, spent rocket stages, and fragments from previous space missions, all of which can pose significant risks to operational spacecraft and future space missions. The accumulation of space debris is a consequence of human activities in space, such as satellite launches and space missions, which generate additional fragments and debris.

The presence of so many space objects and the dominance of space debris in Earth’s orbit have resulted in congestion, akin to a traffic jam, in outer space. This congestion poses a serious threat to active satellites and other spacecraft, as even small fragments of space debris can travel at high speeds and cause significant damage upon impact.

Space agencies and organizations are increasingly focused on space traffic management and debris mitigation strategies to ensure the safety and sustainability of space activities. Initiatives to track and catalog space objects, as well as efforts to avoid generating more debris through responsible satellite design and end-of-life disposal practices, are critical in addressing the challenge of space debris.

ISRO's rocket launch delayed due to space traffic congestion | Mint

As space exploration and commercial space activities continue to grow, global cooperation and adherence to best practices for space debris mitigation become essential in safeguarding the space environment for future generations.

The statement made by S Somanath, the Chairman of ISRO, highlights the critical issue of millions of uncataloged space objects that are less than 10 cm in size. These smaller debris pieces are challenging to track and catalog due to their size and large numbers, posing a significant risk to space assets and spacecraft in Earth’s orbit.

Because they are not cataloged, these smaller space objects can potentially collide with active satellites and other space assets, leading to potential damage or destruction. Even small impacts can cause serious consequences due to the high velocities at which these objects travel in space.

The presence of such a large number of untracked and unclassified space objects underscores the urgency for better space traffic management and debris mitigation measures. Effective space surveillance and tracking systems are crucial for identifying and monitoring these smaller debris pieces, which are a major concern for the safety and sustainability of space activities.

Addressing the issue of smaller uncataloged space objects requires global cooperation and concerted efforts from space agencies and organizations worldwide. Advancements in space situational awareness, data-sharing mechanisms, and the development of more advanced technologies for space debris tracking and mitigation are essential to mitigate the risks posed by these objects and ensure the continued safety of space assets in Earth’s orbit.

The challenge of space debris is indeed exacerbated by the implications of anti-satellite (ASAT) tests carried out by certain countries. These tests involve intentionally destroying or disabling satellites in space, and the resulting debris from such tests can add significantly to the existing space debris problem.

As of the time of the opinion piece by Pallava Bagla, China, the United States, India, and Russia were the countries known to possess the capability to conduct ASAT tests. Each of these tests generates additional space debris, which can remain in orbit for extended periods, posing risks to other satellites and space assets.

Space debris from ASAT tests can travel at high speeds and has the potential to collide with operational satellites, further contributing to the congestion and danger in Earth’s orbit. Such collisions can create even more fragments, leading to a cascade effect known as the “Kessler Syndrome,” where collisions generate more debris, increasing the likelihood of further collisions.

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The implications of ASAT tests highlight the need for responsible space activities and the importance of international cooperation in space debris mitigation. Spacefaring nations must consider the long-term impact of their actions in space and work towards minimizing the generation of space debris.

Addressing the challenge of space debris requires the adoption of sustainable space practices, such as responsible satellite design, controlled deorbiting of defunct satellites, and international agreements to limit the generation of space debris. By working together and implementing responsible space policies, countries can contribute to a safer and more sustainable space environment for future space activities.

The successful launch of India’s PSLV on July 30 was a significant achievement for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). However, as mentioned in Pallava Bagla’s opinion piece on NDTV, the launch was not without its pre-launch uncertainties and challenges.

One interesting detail highlighted in the opinion piece was the presence of traffic congestion in space above Sriharikota, the spaceport in India from where the PSLV was launched. The space congestion refers to the presence of multiple space objects, including satellites, debris, and other space assets, in close proximity to the launch site and the intended trajectory of the rocket. Such congestion poses a risk to the launch and can lead to last-minute adjustments or postponements to ensure the safety and success of the mission.

In this case, the presence of other space objects in the vicinity of the launch site reportedly led to the decision to postpone the launch by one minute. This decision highlights the meticulous approach taken by ISRO to ensure that all safety protocols are followed, even in the face of unexpected challenges.

Managing space traffic and ensuring the safety of space assets is a growing concern in the space community, as the number of satellites and space missions increases. This incident underscores the importance of space situational awareness and the need for robust space traffic management systems to prevent collisions and protect both space assets and future missions.

The launch of the PSLV on July 30 was a technically intricate and significant event. The timing of the launch was delayed by a minute due to concerns related to “Space conjunction” at the 500 km plus orbit, which is densely packed with satellites. This decision was taken to ensure the safety of the launch and to avoid any potential collisions with other space objects in the vicinity.

During the same launch, a noteworthy experiment was conducted by ISRO. For the first time, the fourth stage of the PSLV, which was positioned at an altitude of 536 km above Earth, was intentionally maneuvered to descend to a lower orbit at 300 km through a series of precise maneuvers. This novel orbit reduction experiment was a significant achievement and showcased ISRO’s capabilities in conducting complex maneuvers in space.

The experiment involved two precise maneuvers to bring the fourth stage to a lower orbit, and it demonstrated India’s advancements in space technology and mission planning. This development could have potential implications for future missions, including reducing space debris by deorbiting spent rocket stages or satellite components after their mission is complete.

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While the details were reported in an opinion piece on NDTV, it is essential to note that independent confirmation of the development was not available from other sources, as mentioned in Mint. Nonetheless, the reported experiment highlights ISRO’s commitment to innovation and its efforts to advance space exploration and technology.

The initiative taken by ISRO to voluntarily reduce the orbit of the fourth stage of the PSLV as part of the ‘Swachh Antriksh Abhiyan’ (Clean Space Mission) is a commendable step toward mitigating space debris and keeping space clean. By moving the spent rocket stage from the 500 km low earth orbit to a lower orbit at 300 km, ISRO is demonstrating its commitment to responsible space practices and sustainability in space activities.

The 500 km low earth orbit is a valuable and heavily used orbit for various satellite missions, and voluntarily vacating it reflects ISRO’s dedication to international cooperation and the principle of ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam,’ which means “the world is one family.” By freeing up this orbital space, ISRO is making room for other missions and contributing to the overall safety and efficiency of space operations.

Moreover, reducing the orbit of the fourth stage to 300 km will accelerate its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in the stage burning out within 30 days. This is a significant improvement compared to leaving the stage in the higher orbit, where it might have taken up to 18 years to naturally deorbit and burn up. By shortening the time for reentry, ISRO is further reducing the risk of space debris and potential collisions with other space objects.

ISRO’s initiative sets a positive example for other spacefaring nations, emphasizing the importance of responsible space activities and the need to address the growing concern of space debris. By taking proactive measures like this, ISRO is contributing to a cleaner and safer space environment for the benefit of all space missions and ensuring the long-term sustainability of space exploration.

The successful controlled deorbiting of the non-functional Meghatropiques satellite is another positive step by India towards managing space debris and maintaining a cleaner space environment. By safely guiding the satellite back into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up upon reentry, India has demonstrated its commitment to responsible space practices and reducing the risk of space debris.

The sporadic instances of space debris washing up on shores, as seen in the case in Australia, highlight the global nature of the space debris issue and its potential impacts on Earth’s environment and populations. These instances underscore the need for concerted efforts by spacefaring nations to address space debris through responsible mission planning and debris mitigation measures.

The US Space Command’s approximation of 26,783 space entities measuring 10 cm or more in size, along with countless smaller fragments, reflects the magnitude of the space debris challenge. Tracking and cataloging these space objects are crucial for space situational awareness and collision avoidance.

Leveraging advanced radar systems, optical tools, and satellites in orbit is vital for monitoring and understanding the dynamics of space debris and its potential hazards. By using these technologies, space agencies and organizations can work towards developing effective strategies to manage space traffic, prevent collisions, and preserve the long-term sustainability of space activities.

Addressing the space debris problem requires global cooperation and the collective efforts of all spacefaring nations to implement best practices for satellite design, controlled deorbiting, and responsible space operations. By working together, the international space community can better safeguard space assets, protect the environment, and ensure the continued exploration and utilization of space for generations to come.

The latest tally mentioned in the opinion piece indicates that ISRO currently has 52 functioning satellites in space. These operational satellites are actively performing various missions and tasks, contributing to India’s space capabilities and applications.

Alongside the functioning satellites, there are six non-operational satellites of Indian origin still orbiting in space. These satellites have likely completed their intended missions but remain in space as space debris.

In addition to the non-operational satellites, there are 105 fragments of space debris, comprising rocket bodies and fragments, of Indian origin that continue to orbit. These fragments could be remnants of previous satellite launches or space missions.

Collectively, India’s satellite launches amount to 130, indicating the country’s robust and active space program. Out of these launches, 73 satellites are situated in low Earth orbit (LEO), while 54 are positioned in geostationary orbit (GEO).

The presence of functioning satellites in various orbits reflects India’s diverse space applications, including communication, Earth observation, weather monitoring, navigation, and scientific research. While India’s space program has achieved significant milestones, it also highlights the importance of responsible space practices, including debris mitigation and satellite end-of-life disposal, to maintain a sustainable space environment for future space missions.

India’s space program has indeed made significant strides since the inauguration of the Aryabhatta satellite in 1975. With satellites like Mangalyaan orbiting Mars and the Chandrayaan series exploring the Moon, India has demonstrated its capability in interplanetary missions and lunar exploration.

The deployment of numerous satellites for various applications has revolutionized daily life within the country. Satellites for weather prediction, television communication, digital infrastructure, and other areas have contributed to India’s progress and development across multiple sectors.

The absence of substantiated instances of recorded losses of Indian space assets due to collisions reflects India’s commitment to space safety and responsible practices. However, the mysterious circumstances leading to the loss of the INSAT 2D and GSAT-6A satellites serve as a reminder of the challenges and risks associated with space activities.

With over 50 operational satellites valued at a substantial amount, India’s space assets hold immense economic and strategic importance. They facilitate critical services and functions that underpin the country’s economy, communication networks, and national security.

Given the significant role these satellites play, comprehensive protection and measures to safeguard them are of utmost importance. Continued investment in space situational awareness, debris mitigation, and satellite cybersecurity are crucial to ensure the longevity and functionality of India’s space assets. As India’s space program continues to evolve, it will be essential to maintain a proactive approach to space safety and sustainability for the benefit of the nation and the global space community.

The ‘ISRO System for Safe and Sustainable Space Operations Management’ (IS4OM), established in the previous year, plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and sustainability of India’s space operations. IS4OM is a mechanism that continuously evaluates data to anticipate the trajectories of other space objects that may come into proximity with Indian space assets.

In 2022, ISRO’s in-house Space Object Proximity Analysis (SOPA) generated approximately 14,000 notifications regarding imminent close approaches of space objects within a 1-kilometer range of India’s functional satellites. These notifications help ISRO closely monitor and assess potential collision risks, enabling timely actions to avoid any space collisions and ensure the safety of space assets.

Furthermore, ISRO received around 13,000 notifications concerning close approaches from the US Space Command. These notifications were reevaluated using more precise orbital information related to India’s functional satellites, ensuring accurate and updated data for space traffic management.

By actively analyzing and evaluating data related to space objects’ trajectories and close approaches, ISRO can effectively manage and mitigate collision risks in space, thereby enhancing the safety and sustainability of its space operations. Such proactive measures are crucial to protecting valuable space assets, reducing space debris, and fostering a secure and sustainable space environment for all.

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