sabotage of space

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sabotage of space

Postby >-) » Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:44 pm UTC

for whatever reason, would it have been possible from the 1960s to 1990s to send multiple spacecraft up carrying nothing but scrap metal, and to have the cargo detonated so that space debris would be spread in near earth orbit rendering further space exploration near impossible?

i want to know if

it's possible to send up enough debris to make near earth orbit normally impossible?

and if there is anyway to circumvent debris by using thick sheilding or something similar?

thank you!

elasto
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Re: sabotage of space

Postby elasto » Fri Jun 07, 2013 1:23 am UTC

Space is big, but, yes, given how even a fleck of paint can do damage to an orbiting satellite due to the high speeds involved, it would certainly be possibly to generate enough detritus to make the half-life of satellites unacceptably low.

The Guardian wrote:More than half a century of sending objects into space has left the Earth surrounded by junk. Bits of long-dead satellites, spent rocket stages and other debris orbit the planet at almost 18,000 mph, each chunk a potential hazard to working satellites or astronauts.

The Swiss have a plan, however. Scientists at the Swiss space centre at EPFL, the federal institute for technology in Lausanne, want to send a "janitor satellite" into orbit, to sweep up debris and permanently remove it from orbit.

The SFr10m (£7m) satellite, called CleanSpace One, could launch within five years, according to EPFL.

Nasa keeps track of 16,000 pieces of orbiting junk that are larger than 10cm (4in) in diameter. There could be more than 500,000 measuring 1cm-10cm and many hundreds of millions of smaller ones.

Even a small fragment of debris could severely damage (or even destroy) satellites or other spacecraft that collide with them, creating even more dangerous debris. The International Space Station has to regularly alter its orbit to avoid being hit by large bits of junk.

In February 2009, the US satellite Iridium-33 exploded when it accidentally hit Russia's long-abandoned Cosmos-2251 satellite.

"It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation," said Claude Nicollier, an astronaut and EPFL professor.

CleanSpace One would match its trajectory to that of its target using an EPFL-designed ultra-compact motor. When it reaches its target, it will grab the junk with a gripping claw. At speeds of up to 18,000mph, this will not be an easy task, especially if the junk is rotating. CleanSpace One will then head back to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere, along with its attached junk.

For its first mission, EPFL will aim to bring down one of two abandoned Swiss satellites: the Swisscube picosatellite, which was launched into orbit in 2009, or the TIsat, launched in July 2010.

Russia's planned Mars moon probe never escaped Earth orbit after its November launch. Despite the efforts of Russian and European space agencies to contact it, it became one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth.

"We want to offer and sell a whole family of readymade systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites," said Volker Gass, the Swiss space centre's director, in a statement on the EPFL website.

"Space agencies are increasingly finding it necessary to take into consideration and prepare for the elimination of the stuff they're sending into space. We want to be the pioneers in this area."


link

At some point there could be a slow-motion 'critical mass chain-reaction' effect occur - where debris destroys satellites which creates more debris which destroys more satellites and so on.

Stuff like this doesn't help much either...

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Re: sabotage of space

Postby doogly » Fri Jun 07, 2013 2:38 am UTC

Eliminating near earth orbit would be tricky. If you send a single object at the right radius for geosynchrous orbit, but going the other direction, you would fuck up a huge amount of shit.
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Re: sabotage of space

Postby HungryHobo » Fri Jun 07, 2013 10:14 am UTC

send up a shipment of a few million ball-bearings wrapped around some shaped charges. repeat a few times.

You could probably really mess things up in some of the more useful orbits.
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Re: sabotage of space

Postby Carlington » Fri Jun 07, 2013 10:40 am UTC

Not necessarily. Depends on the shape of your charges. I'd wager, though, that to get any sort of meaningfully wide distribution of ball bearings, wide enough to inhibit access to orbit, you'd need a bang big enough that a decent proportion of your payload ends up on a non-orbiting trajectory.
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Re: sabotage of space

Postby firechicago » Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:35 pm UTC

It also depends on how densely populated the orbit you're targeting is. Weapons like this don't get really nasty until the population of satellites gets big enough to spark a Kessler syndrome situation, where each collision creates enough debris to cause, on average, at least one more collision, and the chain reaction doesn't stop until LEO is just one giant debris field.

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Re: sabotage of space

Postby HungryHobo » Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:41 pm UTC

is there any math out there on the size of object that would be dangerous at GEO?

I came across some figures claiming orbital speed for GEO is about 3000 meters/second. Would that be correct?

Imagine then, instead of just firing a rocket loaded with bearings straight up and blowing it you load one with the smallest fragmets which would still be highly damaging to satelites at 6000m/s.

At that speed I imagine bearings would be overkill and even fairly fine dust would do.

and put it into GEO going the wrong way as an earlier commenter suggested. blow a very small charge merely to separate all the fragments and you have a slowly expanding cloud of debris going the wrong way at GEO like a shotgun blast.

At LEO you'd need much larger fragments but the area in which targets can be is much smaller...
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Re: sabotage of space

Postby speising » Fri Jun 07, 2013 5:36 pm UTC

isn't it really stupid to remove mass from orbit that cost thousands of dollars per kg to send up? i'd like to imagine one could collect the stuff and do something useful with it.

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Re: sabotage of space

Postby flownt » Fri Jun 07, 2013 6:33 pm UTC

True, but I don't think orbital metallurgy is a thing yet, which kinda limits the usefulness of all that mass.

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Re: sabotage of space

Postby sardia » Fri Jun 07, 2013 6:50 pm UTC

Isn't the OP describing Kessler syndrome?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome

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Re: sabotage of space

Postby lgw » Fri Jun 07, 2013 7:01 pm UTC

To the OPs question: I doubt there were enough launches in those 3 decades to so pollute local orbits that you couldn't get a rocket past them to go exploring. You could certainly pollute a given orbit so that nothing could use that orbit, but making such a "dense" shell that you couldn't get past it seems quite unlikely. Even if you allowed a great many more launches from the 60s through the 90s, all designed to fill local space with junk, I suspect that some purpose-built ground-based weapon systems could "make a hole" as needed.

Also, given sufficiently long term, local space will clean itself up. Low orbits have enough friction to bring down smaller debris in decades or centuries, and as time went on remaining debris would tend to form a ring. That could take quite some time from a human perspective, but not so long in geological/astronomical terms.
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Re: sabotage of space

Postby PM 2Ring » Sat Jun 08, 2013 5:45 am UTC

speising wrote:isn't it really stupid to remove mass from orbit that cost thousands of dollars per kg to send up? i'd like to imagine one could collect the stuff and do something useful with it.

I agree. Even if we can't currently do anything useful with this debris, it seems wasteful to spend money to collect it and then just burn it up when we might be able to recycle it some time in the future.

So it'd be nice if a clean-up operation could gather up the bits and pieces & somehow stick them together into a single lump that's easy to keep track of. But I guess that's not so easy to do. And the lump would have to be given enough extra energy to put it into a relatively high orbit, since LEOs have a tendency to decay.

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Re: sabotage of space

Postby Carlington » Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:03 am UTC

I like that idea a lot, PM 2Ring. I'm envisioning a small tug that orbits the Earth, moving around (maybe powered by nuclear reactor/ion engine?) to different orbits and collecting bits of junk, ferrying them back to a storage module which is in a stable orbit (or maybe attached to the ISS or some such?)
The storage module could have facilities for melting the metal down and returning it to a usable form. Such a set-up has two main benefits - firstly, the obvious cleaning of debris from space, and secondly, it creates a small stockpile of building materials, making the orbital construction of large spacecraft much cheaper, because we don't need to ferry nearly as much stuff up there.
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Re: sabotage of space

Postby bouer » Sat Jun 08, 2013 2:23 pm UTC

A powerful electromagnet would be ideal for picking up very small pieces of debris, except that I think most metal up there is aluminium.

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Re: sabotage of space

Postby Fine Man » Sat Jun 08, 2013 6:29 pm UTC

I wonder what the cost analysis of sending up a storage-bot would be vs just sending up a kamikaze-bot. By the time we have the technology to actually recycle space debris in orbit, we will probably have cheaper ways of sending things to space, so it might be cheaper in the long run just to do a scoop-and-destroy method instead of making a much more secure long-term storage satellite. After all, there's no guarantee that it will ever be cheaper to recycle debris while in orbit instead of just sending up new stuff.

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Re: sabotage of space

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jun 08, 2013 8:01 pm UTC

Carlington wrote:I like that idea a lot, PM 2Ring. I'm envisioning a small tug that orbits the Earth, moving around (maybe powered by nuclear reactor/ion engine?) to different orbits and collecting bits of junk, ferrying them back to a storage module which is in a stable orbit (or maybe attached to the ISS or some such?)
The storage module could have facilities for melting the metal down and returning it to a usable form. Such a set-up has two main benefits - firstly, the obvious cleaning of debris from space, and secondly, it creates a small stockpile of building materials, making the orbital construction of large spacecraft much cheaper, because we don't need to ferry nearly as much stuff up there.
But you'd still be ferrying it all over orbital space. It may be cheaper to move something from one orbit to another than to send it up in the first place, but the difference may not be all that great if the tug itself isn't compact enough.
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Re: sabotage of space

Postby The Geoff » Sat Jun 15, 2013 2:52 pm UTC

In the real world (yeah, I know, sorry) the issue is complicated by the economics of it all. If you're spending a billion dollars on a single satellite and there's a 10% chance of it being taken out in any given year then that's quite a risk. If you're sending up a bunch of football sized satellites that cost a thousand dollars a piece (plus some kind of cheap launch vehicle) and can happily lose a few of them then you won't care so much. It's the same as the risk assessment in Fight Club - the company doesn't care about a few families getting burned alive as long as the recall is more expensive than the bad publicity.

If you really wanted to sabotage space travel you'd be better off with political lobbying and going after the share price of the companies doing it. Sad but true.

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Re: sabotage of space

Postby Paul in Saudi » Mon Jun 17, 2013 2:19 pm UTC

How much risk are you willing to accept? If there is a one-in-100 chance of a collision, we would probably accept that. After that, it depends on your political calculations.


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