The rise in space missions is not only populating the Earth's orbit but also cluttering the space around our nearest celestial neighbor.
As space exploration flourishes, the zones beyond our planet’s atmosphere, particularly around the moon, are getting increasingly crowded. Thanks to a surge in military, commercial, and scientific launches and the affordability of rideshare cubesat launches, we’re on the brink of a space junk epidemic.
Notably, while we have decent tracking mechanisms for low Earth orbit, we’re somewhat in the dark when it comes to monitoring the Medium- to High- (Geostationary/Geosynchronous GEO) orbits and beyond. The moon’s vicinity, which is expected to become bustling shortly, falls under this lesser-known category.
Purdue University’s Vital Study
A recent groundbreaking study spearheaded by Carolin Frueh from Purdue University aims to meticulously map and monitor space debris near the moon, emphasizing mitigation measures. The study recommends “four-body geometry” to forecast the trajectory of orbits over time.
Frueh shed light on the complexities, stating, “The near-Earth environment is dominated by the Earth… Four-body geometry is especially relevant when we want to evaluate if objects, in the near and mid-term, stay in the cis-lunar (Earth-Moon) region, or will leave that region.”
Lunar Activity Heating Up
As explained by Universe Today, the sace between Earth and the moon, spanning roughly a quarter of a million miles, remains largely unchecked. Earth-centric radars and telescopes face limitations in tracking space debris, underscoring the need for assets positioned closer to the moon.
Recent incidents, like the unidentified lunar rocket booster crash in early 2022 (later recognized as China’s Long March rocket upper stage) and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (LRO) near-miss with Korea’s Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, highlight the urgency of the situation.
Upcoming Missions and the Need for Monitoring
The next ten years will witness a spike in lunar missions. From crewed Artemis expeditions to NASA’s Viper rover slated for a 2024 lunar landing, the list is extensive. Also, ambitious projects like the crewed Lunar Gateway orbital outpost are on the horizon for 2025.
Frueh emphasized the significance of advancing tracking and detection, stating, “The establishment of a comprehensive surveillance for the cis-lunar region is an area of much active research and development at the moment.”
The 2020 Artemis Accords, backed by 29 nations, recognizes and addresses the escalating concern of space debris.
The Emerging Lunar Economy
Anticipation is building around the potential “lunar economy,” with many international agencies optimistic about its growth. Several firms are poised to harness the moon’s resources, promising both economic and scientific breakthroughs. European Space Agency (ESA) is on track to launch Moonlight, a standalone communication network encircling the moon, by 2025.
It’s evident: we get a single chance to manage and regulate lunar debris, especially with the impending human re-entry to the moon this decade.
PLEASE READ: Have something to add? Visit Curiosmos on Facebook. Join the discussion in our mobile Telegram group. Also, follow us on Google News. Interesting in history, mysteries, and more? Visit Ancient Library’s Telegram group and become part of an exclusive group.