What is the Kessler effect, and also when and what will the collision of satellites in orbit lead to?

What is the Kessler effect?

Space exploration is one of the most hopeful pursuits of humanity.

Out into the great unknown of the Universe, scientistshope to expand the boundaries of our universe, find new resources and life forms, while solving many of the earthly problems. However, there is a scenario called Kessler's syndrome that could end all space exploration and significantly affect our daily lives.

The Kessler effect suggests that a collisioneven two large orbiting satellites will lead to the formation of thousands and millions of debris, which scatter in all directions, hitting other satellites and creating new debris. Imagine a chain reaction in a nuclear charge, extrapolated to the scale of the Earth's orbit - this will be the Kessler effect. And now there are much more satellites and debris in orbit than in the 1980s. If such a hypothetical scenario becomes a reality, then near space will become unusable for tens or even hundreds of years.

In 1978, NASA scientist Donald J.Kessler suggested that the chain reaction of space debris accumulation and collision would eventually make space activities and the use of satellites impossible for several generations. He predicted that the number of objects that humans continue to launch into low Earth orbit (LEO) would create such a dense environment over the planet that inevitable collisions would eventually cause a cascading effect. Space debris and shrapnel from a single collision will make further collisions more likely. When the number of such events reaches a critical point, space debris will completely take over orbital space.

Is such a scenario possible in the future?

Yes.What makes this situation possible is the fact that there are millions of micrometeoroids, as well as man-made debris that is already orbiting the Earth. How great is the danger posed by even a small fragment flying at high speed? NASA estimates that a 1-centimeter debris from a satellite or rocket moving at 36,000 km / h can do the same damage as an object weighing 250 kg on Earth, moving at almost 100 km / h per hour. If the size of the fragment was increased to 10 centimeters, such a projectile would have a force of 7 kilograms in TNT equivalent. Now imagine that thousands of such objects fly at breakneck speed in orbit of the Earth and crash into each other.

What will happen?

If the chain reaction of the explosion of space debrisnevertheless, it will happen, the orbital zone will be filled with dangerous debris and the space program would really be under threat. Traveling beyond LEO, like the planned mission to Mars, will become much more difficult, but possible.

If the worst predictions of the Kessler effect come true,then all services that rely on satellites will suffer. Namely, the key aspects of our modern life are GPS, television, military and scientific research.

Was the Kessler effect observed before?

NASA has already observed the effects of the Kessler effect in1970s, when the remaining Delta rockets in orbit began to explode, forming shrapnel clouds. This inspired astrophysicist Kessler to warn the public that there is a moment when the amount of debris in orbit reaches critical mass. At this point, a cascade of collisions will begin, even if nothing else is launched into space. And as soon as the chain of explosions begins, it can continue until the orbital space is cleared.

According to Kessler, to achieve thisit will take 30 to 40 years. NASA says its experts are warning that we have already reached critical mass in low Earth orbit. According to the space agency, LEO now contains half a million pieces of space debris up to 10 cm in length, more than 21,000 pieces of debris more than 10 cm in length, and more than 100 million pieces of space debris less than 1 cm in size.

The first space accident

American spacecraft Iridium-33 andKosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite of the Strela series, collided at an altitude of approximately 805 kilometers over Siberia at 19.56 Moscow time on February 10, 2009. Two hours earlier, mathematical modeling carried out by the non-governmental system SOCRATES showed that the two objects would pass dangerously close to each other - 584 meters away. But at the moment of rendezvous, the Iridium stopped communicating, and then the US military saw a cloud of fragments in this orbit - a collision occurred.

After the collision in orbit,a huge cloud of thousands of fragments. This event alone increased the number of space debris by more than 10% - now about 16.7 thousand debris objects are tracked in orbit. The only event comparable in terms of "power" was the destruction of the Chinese meteorological satellite "Fengyun-1C" during the tests of anti-satellite weapons in the PRC, when about 3 thousand fragments emerged.

In 2015 the representativeVympel, the information and analytical center of the Interstate Joint Stock Corporation (IAC), reported that the consequences of the first "space accident" in history will affect the situation in near-earth space for another 20-30 years.

How is the situation today?

On the problem of a possible catastrophe in Earth's orbitdrew attention to the experts of the British analytical center Chatham House, who published an article "Satellites: Space, the final war zone". In space, as analysts suggested, a "war of all against all" may begin, which will leave humanity without satellites.

The likelihood of catastrophic for astronauticsthe development of events grows as more and more devices appear in the Earth's orbit. A particular danger is created by satellite constellations consisting of thousands of devices: Starlink, OneWeb, Guo Wang, Project Kuiper and others like that. Experts say that the Kessler effect is an almost inevitable future, and the only question is when exactly the chain reaction will begin in orbit.

For example, space debris with a total mass of more than 7 thousand tons is now in near-earth orbit. This was reported in "Roskosmos".

"If you collect all the space debris in orbits around the Earth, you get more than seven thousand tons, this is the weight of a loaded train of more than 70 cars", - said in the message of the state corporation.

Daily automated systemwarnings about dangerous situations in near-earth space receive from three to ten messages about the approach of Russian spacecraft with potentially dangerous objects.

Tracking stations for potentially dangerous objects in Earth's orbit are located in different parts of the planet.

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