Avoiding space debris represents one of the biggest “risks” to operating a supply chain in outer space, said Darren McKnight, a technical director for Centauri Corp.
More than 20,000 objects in Earth’s orbit are considered space debris, the majority being man-made objects, creating challenges for interstellar logistics and supply chain operations, McKnight said.
“It’s all about risk. Collision risk is important to minimize — we don’t want to run into things, we don’t want operational satellites to be hit by pieces of debris,” he added. “We have 20,000 objects in space that we catalog and we track; unfortunately, only about 1,000 of those are actually operational satellites.”
McKnight joined FreightWaves Chief Strategy Officer JT Engstrom as part of FreightWaves’ SpaceWaves virtual event Thursday. They discussed “The Challenges of Maintaining an Operational Space Supply Chain.”
At Centauri Corp., McKnight leads teams developing solutions for space systems, predictive awareness for infectious disease outbreaks, orbital debris, and workforce productivity. Washington D.C.-based Centauri Corp. is a provider of engineering, intelligence, cybersecurity and advanced technology solutions.
The majority of space debris in Earth’s orbit is older satellites, spent fuel rockets from previous missions, even pieces of old spacecraft, which can create problems for future missions, McKnight said.
“Debris may be anywhere from fragments resulting from breakup events that occurred 20 years ago, to rocket bodies the size of a yellow school bus that are still orbiting the Earth at seven and a half kilometers per second, waiting for something to get in its way and create thousands more pieces of debris,” McKnight said. “Unfortunately, the debris you can’t see can kill you.”
McKnight said there is no easy way out of the predicament.
“Just to go grab those objects can be scary; moving them through airspace and to the ground, you’re not really eliminating risk, you’re moving space risk to aviation risk, to ground casualty risk,” McKnight said.
Engstrom asked McKnight how scientists allocate resource capital “to most effectively ensure that you are getting the best return on your intellectual capital, labor endorsement?”
McKnight said any company or organization operating in space needs to do three things:
- Space traffic management — “Make sure that satellites that go into space have collision avoidance capability and they share data so they can avoid each other.”
- Mitigation guidelines — “Not only do you need to avoid collisions while you’re operational, but when you’re done, that space object has to come down within a year or six months.”
- Grab these objects — “You need to go grab some of these objects, just like it makes good sense not to litter on the highways, somebody’s got to go adopt the highway and pick up the trash.”
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