NASA Sends A New Gadget To Detect Space Debris

Posted: Dec 10 2017, 11:32am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA Sends a New Gadget to Detect Space Debris
Credit: NASA

The device will allow scientists aboard the ISS to monitor the risks of collisions

Since the launch of Soviet’s Sputnik satellite in 1957, space exploration has produced a tremendous amount of debris around Earth. An estimated 170 million pieces of space junk are currently orbiting low Earth orbit and this growing amount of space debris could lead to catastrophic collisions with satellites.

The debris in space can travel at speeds above 27,000kmh, which is fast enough for even a small fragment to damage or destroy satellites. These small pieces of space debris that measure about 1 millimeter in size pose a serious threat to International Space Station as well. While the larger pieces of debris – ranging from 2 inches to 1 meter in diameter – are regularly monitored by NASA and other space agencies, the smaller ones are quite hard to detect.

To solve this problem, NASA launched a device into the space back in September. The device is now mounted on an external payload site around ISS, where it will monitor impacts for the next two to three years.

Named Space Debris Sensor (SDS), the new device is about bout 1 square meter long and consists of a thin front layer of Kapton, followed by a second layer of acoustic sensors and resistive wires behind it. The device will be used to measure and characterize the orbiting debris and help space agencies to develop joint strategies for avoiding and mitigating its impact.

“(O)nce you know the hazard you can adjust the design of future missions to protect them from impacts, or you are more persuasive when telling satellite manufacturers they have to create less debris in future. Or you know if you really need to get rid of old satellites/ junk before it breaks up and showers earth orbit with small mm scale debris." Dr. Mark Burchell, one of the co-investigators and collaborators on the SDS from the University of Kent said in a statement.

The first layer of the instrument measures the size, speed, direction, time, and energy of any small debris it comes into contact with; while the acoustic sensors located in second layer measure the time and location of a penetrating impact. The information will not only allow scientists aboard the ISS to monitor the risks of collisions but also help them generate more accurate estimates of small debris existing in space.

Dr. Jer Chyi Liou, a co-investigator on the SDS says. “The millimeter-sized orbital debris objects represent the highest penetration risk to the majority of operational spacecraft in low Earth orbit (LEO). The SDS mission will serve two purposes. First, the SDS will collect useful data on small debris at the ISS altitude. Second, the mission will demonstrate the capabilities of the SDS and enable NASA to seek mission opportunities to collect direct measurement data on millimeter-sized debris at higher LEO altitudes in the future – data that will be needed for reliable orbital debris impact risk assessments and cost-effective mitigation measures to better protect future space missions in LEO."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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