Plans to launch “mega constellations” of thousands of communications satellites to allow for global wireless internet could lead to a rise in collisions and build-up of dangerous space junk in Earth’s orbit, a study warns.
Google, SpaceX, Boeing and Samsung are among the companies vying to launch global broadband networks by deploying thousands of tiny satellites into low orbit. The first launches are planned for next year.
With about 750,000 objects larger than 1cm orbiting Earth, the junk surrounding the planet is already a major obstacle to attempts to exploit space. At average speeds of 40,000 km/h, impacts on space hardware would deliver roughly the energy equivalent to the explosion of a hand grenade, with potentially dramatic consequences for operational satellites.
The European Space Agency is calling for the satellites planned for orbital mega-constellations to be able to move to low altitudes once their missions are over so they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. They must also be able discharge all batteries, fuel tanks and pressure tanks to prevent explosions that would scatter debris.