A company executive said that SpaceX could use its Starship vehicles to dispose of space debris in Earth orbit, in addition to the more intended purpose of a program to carry people to the moon and Mars and carry cargo, a company executive said.
Gwynn Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said the company’s next pay-as-you-go starship program could help solve the space junk problem.
“Starship is an extraordinary new vehicle capability,” Shotwell said in a discussion posted on October 22, by online time. Shotwell was named one of the 100 most influential people of 2020.
The starship is the upper stage of the giant rocket SpaceX, developed to accelerate payloads of more than 100 metric tons or more than 220,000 pounds in low Earth orbit. With in-orbit refueling, the starship’s methane-feed engines will handle more than 100 metric tons of cargo on lunar, Mars and other deep space, according to SpaceX.
SpaceX is designing Starship and its large booster rocket – dubbed Super Heavy – to be fully reusable. Both vehicles will return to Earth for vert landing to rotate for further missions.
“It will not only reduce the cost of space access, it is the vehicle that will take people from Earth to Mars,” Shotwell said in an interview with Patrick Lucas Aust Stein, a columnist at the time’s Technol column. “But it also has the ability to carry cargo and crew at the same time, and so it’s quite possible that we could take advantage of the Starship to pick up some of these dead rocket corpses – of course, basically some of these. Junk in outer space.”
As of February of this year, the European Space Agency said about 22,300 orbits are regularly tracked in orbit by the space observation network. As of February, about 90% of those substances were no longer functional, according to the ESA.
The ESA has proposed a robotic mission to deorbit the failed Enviset remote sensing satellite. ESA controllers lost contact with Nvizet in 2012, and the bus-sized satellite has not been expected to rot naturally outside orbit for nearly 150 years. This means that it is a long-term threat to create more space debris by colliding with other objects in orbit.
Other companies such as Japanese startup Astroscale want to demonstrate a commercial service to actively remove cluttered satellites and rocket stages from orbit.
SpaceX’s starship could do it on a large scale.
“It’s not going to be easy – it’s not going to be easy – but I believe Starship offers the potential to go and do it and I’m really excited about it,” Shotwell said.
SpaceX is still in the midst of the most ambitious test of its Starship vehicle. A full-size starship prototype with three of the six Raptor engines that will fly on the Orpital-Class Starship – will take off from SpaceX’s test site in South Texas and fly at a distance of more than 49,000 feet or 15 kilometers.
The 164-foot-tall (50-meter) stainless steel starship will then return to Earth and attempt to land on a pad next to the launch site at SpaceX’s Boka Chika facility on the Gulf of Mexico.
Company executives, including SpaceX founder Elon Musk, say they aim to have the starship ready for orbital test flight before the end of 2021, followed by launching satellites, testing orbit refueling and ultimately targeting cargo and crew missions. On the moon and Mars.
NASA has entered into an agreement with SpaceX to develop a starship variant that could land astronauts at the moon’s south pole.
SpaceX is in the midst of deploying a network of thousands of Starlink Internet satellites, raising concerns that the company could exacerbate the problem of space debris.
Shotwell said the Starlink program offered SpaceX a “great opportunity” to “learn our own lessons” in managing and resolving space debris.
“We originally started this constellation at a very high altitude.” We applied our license for the same thing, but when we saw that satellites at the highest itude altitude could be in orbit for centuries or millennia, it didn’t seem great to us because there would always be satellite failures. “
SpaceX now plans to operate its first 4,400 Starlink satellites in orbit around 341 miles (550 kilometers) from Earth. In previous plans, most of the 4,400 satellites were asked to fly in orbits between 690 miles (1,110 kilometers) and 823 miles (1,325 kilometers).
Shotwell said, “There are rocket bodies scattered in the atmosphere and dead satellites scattered in the space atmosphere. “So we have requested to bring the whole constellation to a low itude altitude, so that the satellites crumble very quickly and in fact we inject at a low itude altitude, so if they are not working well for the right reason after launch, they come. Back to earth. They definitely break down, but they basically leave their orbital position very quickly. ”
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