Russian experiment creates a large number of space debris US media: can SpaceX star chain Sue?

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the anti satellite missile launched by Russia on November 15 destroyed cosmos-1408, an abandoned electronic reconnaissance satellite launched in 1982 in the Soviet era. Some experts believe that the resulting space debris will give operators of low earth orbit satellites a headache for years

Russian experiment creates a large number of space debris US media: can SpaceX star chain Sue?

the safe world foundation is a private organization dedicated to the sustainable use of space. Christopher Johnson, the agency’s space law adviser, said that Russia’s behavior is similar to releasing toxic chemicals into the ocean. Every ground controller operating a satellite in the affected space area now has to deal with more than 1500 pieces of space debris with a diameter of more than 10 cm and thousands of small pieces that cannot be tracked. These uncontrolled debris fly through space at a speed of 25000 kilometers per hour, threatening passing spacecraft

shortly after Russia’s anti satellite test, seven astronauts on the international space station temporarily avoided debris. In addition, the satellite chain satellite network composed of nearly 2000 Internet satellites under space X may also be threatened by debris

Johnson said that the anti satellite test is likely to violate the international space law, the United Nations Treaty on outer space, which stipulates that any spacecraft country in space must use space responsibly and harmoniously

the United Nations Treaty on outer space was signed and entered into force in 1967. Article 9 urges all countries to cooperate and assist each other in space activities to avoid harmful pollution to the space environment

Johnson said, “what I want to say is that Russia has not complied with the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance in Article IX of the outer space treaty and has not taken preventive measures to prevent harmful pollution in outer space, which is its obligation.”

the target selected for Russia’s anti satellite test is located in the middle of the most frequently used space area near the earth. The electronic reconnaissance satellite cosmos-1408 operates at an altitude of about 470 km from the earth, and the altitude difference between cosmos-1408 and the international space station is only 40 km. The satellite chain operates in an orbit 550 kilometers above the earth. There are many other spacecraft above and below this altitude. For example, hundreds of satellites of earth observation company planet operate at an altitude between 450 and 500 kilometers from the earth

Tim flohrer, director of the space debris Office of the European Space Agency, said shortly after the anti satellite test that the operators of all these spacecraft must now perform twice as many space debris avoidance actions as before

floller said: “the workload will certainly increase.” “especially in the orbit of 600 km.”

more evasion means that the satellite will run out of fuel faster and consume more time. Since the satellite needs to shut down the service during the evasion action, the time for providing the service will be reduced accordingly. Now, the responsibility for preventing further collisions and generating more orbital debris falls on the shoulders of satellite operators, who must regularly convene expert groups to discuss how to avoid dangerous collisions

Johnson said: “in the short and long term, even if the direction of debris can be predicted, the commercial operation of satellites is indeed affected by this debris cloud. If they must continue to maneuver away from debris, I think it may seriously affect their business.”

the legal basis for claiming against Russia is not simple. In 1972, the United Nations added the Liability Convention to the outer space treaty through negotiation. The Convention stipulates that any country operating in space must bear absolute responsibility for any damage caused by it

so far, the claim has been successful only once. In 1978, Russia agreed to pay $2.36 million to Canada because the residue of its reconnaissance satellite cosmos 954 failed to burn up during re-entry, and the satellite’s high-level radioactive materials were scattered within a 600 km radius of northern Canada

but so far, no man has paid for the impact in space. In 2009, Russia’s scrapped cosmos 2251 satellite collided with iridium 33 of American commercial communication satellite company iridium. The collision created another huge cloud of debris that still affects other spacecraft in orbit, but no one paid for it

ram jakhu, an international space law expert and lecturer at McGill University in Montreal, said that the scope of the Liability Convention is mainly aimed at the actual physical damage caused to satellites. For example, if the debris generated by the Russian anti satellite test destroys a satellite chain, SpaceX can ask Russia to compensate the company for the losses. However, as long as the satellite chain and all other operators’ satellites can try to avoid garbage, it is difficult to accurately judge the economic losses caused by the continuous mobility of satellites

“this is possible, but very difficult,” said jaku. “The category of” (physical damage) is relatively easy, because it is relatively easy to prove who caused the damage, which can be determined before making a claim. However, the (economic loss) caused by maneuver is difficult to prove. ”

however, Johnson believes that this incident may set a new precedent for” damage ” The traditional understanding extends to include avoiding the economic losses caused by space debris

Johnson said: “we generally believe that the liability in space law requires substantial physical damage.” “but the understanding of this is evolving, and the economic losses caused by avoiding or closing business may also be included in the scope of damage compensation.”

in recent years, more and more experts have begun to call for stricter space waste prevention measures. As more and more satellites are launched, the risk of spacecraft collision in space increases. According to the European Space Agency, there are about 3000 abandoned satellites around the earth

the abandoned rockets that sent these satellites into space are still in orbit, occasionally exploding and producing a large amount of debris. The collision between space debris and abandoned satellites will produce more debris. The European Space Agency estimates that there are 36500 pieces of space debris larger than 10cm in diameter around the earth, 1 million pieces of space debris between 1 and 10cm in diameter, and 330 million pieces of space debris between 1mm and 1cm in diameter. Any piece of space debris can destroy or seriously damage the normal operation of satellites

in August 2016, a space debris with a diameter of less than 5mm smashed the solar panel of the European earth observation satellite outpost-1a, causing the satellite to lose power immediately. Fortunately, the satellite has recovered from the accident and is still on mission. But the mission operator said that if the main body of the satellite was hit, the consequences would be much more serious

floller believes that Russia’s anti satellite test will continue to increase the risk of such accidents in the next decade

fortunately, space debris will eventually fall into the earth’s atmosphere and burn up in the process. However, according to the height of space debris generated by cosmos-1408, this natural cleaning process may take years or decades

“do we need accidents, collisions and even disasters in orbit to take it seriously?” Johnson said. “At present, there is no damage or collision, but this should urge us to take space debris seriously.”