A zero-consumption rocket engine from a Russian rocket spontaneously exploded in orbit around Earth.
After drifting in orbit around the Earth for over a decade, a Russian rocket suddenly exploded into many potentially dangerous pieces of space debris, it has been reported. Like many others in orbit around Earth, these pieces could end up endangering astronauts onboard the ISS and hundreds of satellites that currently circle our planet.
According to the United States Space Force (USSF), the part that exploded in space on April 15 was a zero-consumption rocket engine from a Russian rocket.
At least 16 pieces are being tracked by USSF experts. So why did the rocket explode after being in orbit for so long? There was likely residual propellant in the engine is a major clue.
“It’s kind of a ticking time bomb, but without an actual timer,” Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Gizmodo in an interview.
— 18th Space Defense Squadron (@18thSDS) May 3, 2022
One, rocket, two, rockets, hundreds of rockets
Although certainly worrying, such “accidents” in space will become ever frequent, according to experts. There have been over 50 incidents like this one recorded in recent years. Over 60 similar rocket parts are orbiting our planet.
According to experts, the engine that exploded came from a Soviet rocket, originally designed during the Cold War. The most modern rockets used by Russia are unlikely to have this issue. New rockets, McDowell explains, jettison any explosive material before completing their mission, a process called “spacecraft passivation.”
Some programs whose spacecraft designs are not able to meet some of these requirements have turned to an alternative option called “soft passivation.”
In 2021, the International Space Station had to perform emergency maneuvers in outer space and move 1,240 meters away in order to avoid impacting space debris caused by a defunct Chinese Satellite from 2007.
Space debris — an ongoing issue
The more we launch spacecraft, satellites, and astronauts into orbit, the more garbage accumulates around our planet.
As of 2021, and according to the SSN, the US Department of Defense’s global Space Surveillance Network, over 15,000 pieces of space debris are being tracked in orbit. In addition, more than 200,000 pieces between 0.4 and 4 inches and millions of pieces smaller than one centimeter threaten the safety of our planet’s orbit, as per the Business Insider.
As per the estimates of the European Space Agency, or ESA, there are currently approximately 36,500 pieces of junk larger than 10 centimeters (4 inches) orbiting Earth. Around one million pieces vary in size from 1 centimeter to 10 centimeters in diameter. There are also several hundred million pieces still smaller littering the space near the Earth.
Most of the space garbage currently in orbit around our planet belongs to 5 countries; The United States, Russia, China, France, and India. However, most of the garbage is believed to belong to Russia, with experts estimating over 14,500 objects from this country orbit our planet.
Cleaning our planet’s backyard
No matter where we go, we leave garbage behind. We recently wrote about the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars and how it rose to the Red Planet skies and photographed the landing site where the first flying vehicle on Mars and its big brother, the Perseverance rover, touched down.
There are also approximately 400,000 pounds (181436 kg) of trash on the surface of the Moon.
If we are to ensure that the space around our planet is safe for an increasing number of missions to orbit, we need to start cleaning up and removing defunct satellites and dangerous space debris as soon as possible.
To solve the issue of trash around planet Earth, various space agencies soon hope to clean up missions to space.
The European Space Agency has one such mission scheduled to launch in 2026. Dubbed ClearSpace-1, the spacecraft will have four arms designed to clean up space debris in Earth orbit. As per space.com, its experimental arm will attempt to capture the Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (Vespa) left behind by ESA’s Vega launcher in 2013, as per space.com. The total weight of the defunct rocket is 112kg.
According to the ESA, after reaching its mission target, it will capture it and safely bring the derelict object for safe atmospheric reentry.
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