TechDigits

Tech news
Thursday, May 23, 2024

As space junk threat grows, government and investors seek solutions

A growing swarm of debris in space has led the U.S. government to attempt to set new space hygiene norms, while private companies are also investing in ways to tackle the messy orbital environment.
Thousands of commercial satellites are being launched into Earth's orbit at a record pace, driving up the risk of collisions that could spawn swarms of hazardous debris. And with no set norms for military space behavior, some fear a potential space weapon attack that could generate far more debris.

At stake are billions of dollars in assets - the orbital devices crucial to navigation and smartphone maps, text messaging, calls and internet connections that are used by industries and people globally.

U.S. Space Command on Friday released a formal list of what it views as responsible space behaviors, in a bid to steer military norms in orbit.

"The idea is we hope our adversaries do the same," Brigadier General Richard Zellmann, deputy director of the command's operations unit, told Reuters.

The wide-ranging report includes a section on space debris that urges space players to dispose safely of their defunct satellites and notify other operators if any problems with their spacecraft might pose a debris hazard.

"You have to find a way to allow the economy to grow in the space domain, and in order to do that you need to make sure that it remains sustainable," said Zellmann, who oversees much of the Pentagon's space tracking efforts.

"Key to that is going to be ensuring that we can either solve that debris problem, or at least mitigate it to the point that it's acceptable."

While governments try to tackle international rules, the immediate response to the littering of orbit is coming in large part from the private sector.

Tokyo-based Astroscale, with subsidiaries in the U.S. and Britain, is testing a debris removal device called ELSA designed to latch onto defunct satellites and drag them toward Earth's atmosphere for a fiery disposal.

Jack Deasy, vice president of business development at Astroscale's U.S. subsidiary, said industry-specific policies for space behavior similar to the norms proposed by U.S. Space Command are urgently needed before a catastrophic collision occurs that could lead to burdensome regulations.

"That kind of rushed, crisis-driven thing is not always the best way of setting up long-term policies that sustain the ecosystem," he said.

Elon Musk's SpaceX has launched thousands of Starlink internet satellites in low-Earth orbit in recent years. A handful of other companies, including Jeff Bezos' Amazon (AMZN.O), plan to do the same.

"Particularly in the (low-Earth orbit), which is increasingly crowded, the people who are investing billions of dollars to run those constellations have a lot of incentive to keep that clean themselves," said Deasy.

Astroscale this week closed a series G funding round that brought in $76 million, a substantial sum in an industry otherwise facing a drought in investment as investors seek safer bets amid rising inflation.

Putting the firm's total funding at $376 million, investors included Mitsubishi Electric (6503.T) and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, a prospective passenger on SpaceX's next-generation Starship rocket system.

"Garbage scattered in outer space can become a big problem in the future," Maezawa tweeted on Monday as he announced a $23 million investment in Astroscale.

Another part of the space debris mitigation equation is in-space satellite servicing, concepts in development by dozens of firms including Astroscale, Northrop Grumman (NOC.N), Maxar (MAXR.N) and Airbus (AIR.PA). The idea: deploy service satellites to approach and latch onto broken or fuel-spent spacecraft to extend their lifespan.

Those mission extension concepts, which Astroscale and Northrop Grumman have begun testing in space, have sprouted a patchwork of other companies looking to build on the momentum.

Australia-based Neumann Space, for instance, is developing a technology that could help recycle old, defunct satellites into fuel - using the scrap metal to generate plasma thrust for new satellites. That could be used in partnership with satellite-serving companies, it hopes.

"It's great because you can do mission extension by refueling with what's already in space," Neumann Chief Executive Herve Astier said. His company plans to launch a test satellite in June.

"Using the metal that's already there, that's a way to move forward in terms of sustainability."
Newsletter

Related Articles

TechDigits
0:00
0:00
Close
FTX's Bankman-Fried headed for jail after judge revokes bail
America's First New Nuclear Reactor in Nearly Seven Years Begins Operations
Southeast Asia moves closer to economic unity with new regional payments system
Today Hunter Biden’s best friend and business associate, Devon Archer, testified that Joe Biden met in Georgetown with Russian Moscow Mayor's Wife Yelena Baturina who later paid Hunter Biden $3.5 million in so called “consulting fees”
Google testing journalism AI. We are doing it already 2 years, and without Google biased propoganda and manipulated censorship
Musk announces Twitter name and logo change to X.com
The future of sports
TikTok Takes On Spotify And Apple, Launches Own Music Service
Hacktivist Collective Anonymous Launches 'Project Disclosure' to Unearth Information on UFOs and ETIs
Typo sends millions of US military emails to Russian ally Mali
Server Arrested For Theft After Refusing To Pay A Table's $100 Restaurant Bill When They Dined & Dashed
Democracy not: EU's Digital Commissioner Considers Shutting Down Social Media Platforms Amid Social Unrest
Sarah Silverman and Renowned Authors Lodge Copyright Infringement Case Against OpenAI and Meta
Why Do Tech Executives Support Kennedy Jr.?
The New York Times Announces Closure of its Sports Section in Favor of The Athletic
Florida Attorney General requests Meta CEO's testimony on company's platforms' alleged facilitation of illicit activities
The Poor Man With Money, Mark Zuckerberg, Unveils Twitter Replica with Heavy-Handed Censorship: A New Low in Innovation?
The Double-Edged Sword of AI: AI is linked to layoffs in industry that created it
US Sanctions on China's Chip Industry Backfire, Prompting Self-Inflicted Blowback
Meta Copy Twitter with New App, Threads
BlackRock Bitcoin ETF Application Refiled, Naming Coinbase as ‘Surveillance-Sharing’ Partner
UK Crypto and Stablecoin Regulations Become Law as Royal Assent is Granted
A Delaware city wants to let businesses vote in its elections
Alef Aeronautics Achieves Historic Milestone with Flight Certification for World's First Flying Car
Google Blocked Access to Canadian News in Response to New Legislation
French Politicians Advocate for Pan-European Regulation on Social Media Influencers
Melinda French Gates Advocates for Increased Female Representation in AI to Prevent Bias
Snapchat+ gains 4 million paying subscribers in its first year
Apple Makes History as the First Public Company Valued at $3 Trillion
Elon Musk Implements Twitter Limits to Tackle Data Scraping, but Faces Criticism for Technical Misunderstanding
EU and UK's Slow Electric Vehicle Adoption Raises Questions About the Transition to Green Mobility
Top Companies Express Concerns Over Europe's Proposed AI Law, Citing Competitiveness and Investment Risks
Meta Unveils Insights on AI Usage in Facebook and Instagram, Amid Growing Calls for Transparency
Crypto Scams Against Seniors Soar by 78% in 2022, Experts Urge Vigilance
The End of an Era: National Geographic Dismisses Last of Its Staff Writers
Shield Your Wallet: The Perils of Wireless Credit Card Theft
Harvard Scientist Who Studies Honesty Accused Of Data Fraud, Put On Leave
Putting an End to the Subscription Snare: The Battle Against Unwitting Commitments
The Legal Perils of AI: Lawyer Faces Sanctions for Relying on Fictional Cases Generated by Chatbot
ChatGPT’s "Grandma Exploit": Ingenious Hack Exposes Loophole in AI, Generates Free Software Codes
The Disney Downturn: A Near Billion-Dollar Box Office Blow for the House of Mouse
A Digital Showdown: Canada Challenges Tech Giants with The Online News Act, Meta Strikes Back
Distress in the Depths: Submersible and Passengers Missing in Titanic Wreckage Expedition
Mark Zuckerberg stealing another idea: Twitter
European Union's AI Regulations Risk Self-Sabotage, Cautions smart and brave Venture Capitalist Joe Lonsdale
Nvidia GPUs are so hard to get that rich venture capitalists are buying them for the startups they invest in
Chinese car exports surge
Reddit Blackout: Thousands of Communities Protest "Ludicrous" Pricing Changes
Nvidia Joins Tech Giants as First Chipmaker to Reach $1 Trillion Valuation
AI ‘extinction’ should be same priority as nuclear war – experts
×