In 2013, ESA will host a gathering of international specialists to study space debris hazards. The four-day event will spotlight the risks posed to space exploration by the growing number of debris objects in near-Earth space.
ESA will host the 6th European Conference on Space Debris at its European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, 22-25 April. The conference is expected to attract more than 300 leading experts from worldwide. It is co-sponsored by the British, French, German and Italian space agencies (UKSA, CNES, DLR and ASI), the UN Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the International Academy of Astronautics.
Today, citizens worldwide rely on space assets to enable a wide and growing range of economically vital activities.
Just some of the space-based benefits on which all of us rely include TV, weather forecasting, Internet, daily banking, monitoring of crops and optimisation of farming, disaster relief and door-to-door navigation. Space debris stem from man-made objects such as defunct satellites, upper stages, discarded rocket components and even dropped astronaut gloves. Many of these objects that orbit our planet have the potential to break up or explode, proliferating the problem.
It is estimated that the levels of debris in orbit is of the order of 29 000 pieces larger than 10 cm (with 23 000 of them regularly tracked), 670 000 larger than 1 cm and more than 170 million larger than 1 mm. Some debris travels at up to 56 000 km/hr. "Any of these objects can cause harm to an operational spacecraft," says Heiner Klinkrad, Head of ESA's Space Debris Office. "A collision with a 10 cm object would cause a catastrophic fragmentation, a 1 cm object could disable a normal-size spacecraft or penetrate the shields of the specially protected ISS, and a 1 mm object could destroy sensitive satellite sensors."
ESA's 2013 conference will provide a forum for scientists, engineers and managers from all major spacefaring nations, including space operators, industry, academia and policy bodies, to present the latest findings, discuss policy and technical options and help define future directions for research on all aspects of space debris. Topics will include measurement techniques, environment modelling theories, risk analysis, protection designs, mitigation and remediation concepts, and policy and legal issues.
Special sessions will be devoted to active debris removal, in support of space debris environment remediation, with the aim to ensure the long-term sustainability of activities in space. The conference will also promote the regular discussions taking place in a number of organisations, including the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) and the working group on Long-term Sustainability of Space Activities (LTSSA) of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS).