Through Anthony Assemat
Tuesday November 16, 2021, Russia pulverized one of its satellites in orbit in space during a test firing ”. An initiative endorsed by the international community, in particular by the Minister of the French Armies, Florence parly, calling the Russians “space rampages”.
Space is a common good, that of the 7.7 billion inhabitants of our planet. The rampages of space have an overwhelming responsibility in generating debris that pollutes and emits our astronauts and satellites in danger.
– Florence Parly (@florence_parly) November 16, 2021
The explosion received the dissemination of thousands of debris in space, all managed for the other satellites in orbit. But the presence of space debris is not new. It’s even an old subject! In France, the service which takes care of monitoring this space pollution on a daily basis is located in Toulouse.
Fifteen people work at CNES (National Center for Space Studies) within the operational space surveillance center. Juan Carlos Dolado, the head of this service, details the missions of this very special unit for Toulouse news.
News: Since when does this operational space surveillance center exist in Toulouse?
Juan Carlos Dolado: “Since the mid-1990s. The trigger for the creation of this center was the collision between a piece of debris and a French satellite in 1996. Nobody talks about debris at the time, but the problem was new. The work is done on understanding of the generation and risks of this debris.
Since 2013, the CAESAR (Conjunction analysis and evaluation service, alerts and recommendations, an English acronym, editor’s note) mission has been helping to protect 250 French and European satellites.
The particularity of our mission, and it is a fairly unique expertise in Europe, is to integrate research and operational aspects, we cover the entire value chain, even if monitoring centers also exist in Spain, in Italy and Germany. We have knowledge of the space situation, of the objects which revolve around the Earth and of the dangerous debris “.
Comment do you observe this debris? With what tools?
JC. D. : “We process the data through telescopes, radars and lasers, and predict the entry of these objects into the atmosphere. Monitoring is continuous, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
This monitoring takes place at three levels. First at the national level, with data from military sensors. Then European, where we work together 50 sensors with seven member states, with one million measurements measured per day. This European cooperation has existed since 2015. And finally international, with the American Air Force, NASA and the Japanese space agency, with whom we are exchanging measures. “
When we talk about space debris, what are we talking about concretely?
JC. D. : “The first debris has appeared since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, which was the first human object sent into orbit. The first explosion that triggered the appearance of debris in space dates from 1961. Until today, most of this debris is the consequence of accidental fragmentation.
We have cataloged 25,000 regularly observed objects, which are more than 10 cm. For objects that are 1 to 10 cm, we still have to develop models for observers, the current means of surveillance are not efficient enough. But there are nearly 400,000 in all, as well as tens of millions of objects that are less than a centimeter. Debris which is more and more numerous, with several accidental explosions each year.
This debris has two main origins. First human, with the materials of the satellites (solar panels, titanium, aluminum, composites. But also natural with the micro-meteorites and the fragmentations of the comets left, for example, by the trajectories around the sun. 90% of the objects that we can detect in space is debris. The remaining 10% represent operational satellites. “
Much has been said about the dangers for satellites, and even for the ISS, where Thomas Pesquet is located, during the controversy surrounding Russian shooting. What are the real dangers of this debris in space … but also for us, on Earth?
JC. D. : “For satellites, there are risks of impact and destruction. You should know that a small debris, even a centimeter, can destroy a satellite with a very high speed in orbit. It is seven times faster. than the speed of a rifle bullet, the energy is colossal.
Some of its satellite elements can, in fact, arrive on the ground, on Earth. An area is reserved for volunteers in the atmosphere: the SPOUA (like South Pacific Ocean Unhabited Area, note), in the South Pacific area. The risks of causing victims are very low. Once, houses were destroyed in South Africa “.
What was your role following the consequences of the Russian shooting against one of their satellites?
JC. D. : “We had a cumulative surveillance mission, in connection with the Ministry of the Armed Forces. We had to be reactive but this is not the first time that this scenario has occurred. We have already experienced it with China, India and the United States “.
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