Kesler syndrome: how debris in low Earth orbit can deprive humanity of access to space


Low Earth orbit is the most sought after area for both military and civilian satellites.

Today, about 160 thousand spacecraft are already in orbit at a distance of 2000 to 4 km from the Earth’s surface. Moreover, more than half of them belong to SpaceX, which intends to multiply their number in the future.

Is it good or bad? It depends on which side you look at the question. There is no doubt that LEO spacecraft make enormous contributions to science and technological human development.

Meanwhile, due to the increase in their number, in the foreseeable future we may completely lose access to space.

The thing is that in addition to functioning devices, failed satellites are also rotating in orbit. Moreover, some of them collapse and turn into thousands of individual fragments called space debris.

The latter is dangerous because it continues to remain in its orbit for decades, rotating at a speed of about 15 km/s. So, if a satellite operating in LEO collides with a fragment just a couple of centimeters in size, it will be pierced through, or even scatter itself, turning into hundreds of new fragments of space debris.

However, sometimes the satellites themselves collide. For example, this was the case in 2009, when the ESA Iridium 33 and a spent Soviet military satellite Cosmos 2251 collided. According to scientists, they then formed from 600 to 2000 pieces of debris.

This is what the theory called “Kesler syndrome” is based on. It was voiced by NASA employee Donald Kesler back in 1978.

In his opinion, an increase in the number of satellites in orbit will increase the risk of their collisions, after which space debris will multiply, destroying more and more new vehicles, which will again increase the number of dangerous fragments by a factor of several.

It will all end with the fact that due to the abundance of space debris in LEO, humanity will be deprived of the ability to make space launches for decades, or even centuries (until the fragments leave orbit).

It is worth noting that the world's space agencies are today concerned with this issue. In particular, devices are being created and tested that in the future will be able to remove space debris from orbit. However, the matter has not yet reached practical application.

In turn, SpaceX owner Elon Musk said that his satellites are equipped with additional engines that will take them out of orbit in the event of a breakdown or end of life.

Finally, it is worth noting that according to scientists from ESA, today about 130 million objects larger than 1 mm in size rotate in LEO.

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  1. +1
    10 May 2024 19: 54
    In systems engineering there is such a thing as a life cycle, from the birth of a system to the transformation of its functions. Roughly speaking, the satellite was born from an idea, that is, from nothing, but also after finishing its work it must be recycled into nothing. If Musk foresaw its combustion in the atmosphere in case of failure or after retirement, honor and praise to him.
  2. +1
    10 May 2024 20: 09
    There are no other problems, anonymous people can remember about “space junk” from the sofa on holidays..
    Another thing is important:

    more than half of them belong to SpaceX, which intends to multiply their number in the future

    and the growing number of Unified State Exam victims who write all sorts of garbage about these and other satellites..
  3. -3
    10 May 2024 21: 57
    Einstein's theory of relativity deprived humanity of access to space... the exit is simply meaningless.