Australian and Chinese Satellites Almost Collide in Orbit
Concerns over the growing issue of space debris have been raised after reports emerged of a near-collision between an Australian satellite and a suspected Chinese military satellite. With space becoming increasingly crowded, the need for space domain awareness is now more important than ever.
Space domain awareness is the field of detecting, tracking, and monitoring objects in Earth’s orbit, including active satellites and space debris. Ground-based tracking systems such as radar and telescopes are used to track and monitor these objects. Currently, there are over 8,700 active satellites in orbit around Earth, with the number set to increase by 700% by the end of the decade.
Satellites are typically situated in three main orbits: low Earth orbit, medium Earth orbit, and geosynchronous orbit. Low Earth orbit is the most common, with approximately 5,900 active satellites residing up to 1,000km above Earth’s surface. The International Space Station is an example of a low Earth orbit object. Medium Earth orbit is less crowded but houses important satellites like the GPS system. Geosynchronous orbit, situated around 35,000km above Earth, is a special type of orbit that appears stationary from the ground.
Space junk, which includes disused artificial debris ranging from entire satellites to small fragments, also poses a significant threat. There are currently more than 130 million pieces of space debris, with only 35,000 of those large enough to be regularly tracked from the ground.
To address these challenges, space domain awareness plays a crucial role. Australia, in particular, has a unique opportunity to contribute to space domain awareness due to its location. Telescopes in Australia can operate in dark night skies with minimal light pollution, making it an ideal location for space surveillance.
Australia is currently working on a space domain awareness technology demonstrator, funded by SmartSat CRC. This initiative brings together experts in observational astrophysics, advanced data visualization, artificial intelligence, and space weather. The goal is to have a minute-by-minute understanding of what is happening in space and to monitor objects in orbit more effectively.
The recent US government fine imposed on the DISH Network for violating a debris mitigation plan serves as a warning to other companies. As the number of satellites and space debris continues to rise, it is crucial to ensure the safety and longevity of Earth’s space domain.
In conclusion, space domain awareness is becoming increasingly vital as space debris and the number of satellites in orbit continue to grow. Australia’s role in contributing to space domain awareness through innovative technology and research is crucial in maintaining the safety and effectiveness of Earth’s space activities.