Space Industry Updates
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The more satellites that fly around in a low-Earth orbit, the greater the chance that they will collide, shatter and cause a rising series of collisions. The space industry and its regulators need to refute the theory – known as the Kessler effect – to keep insurance costs low and keep investment plentiful.
Space is definitely getting busier. The number of working and decomposed satellites within a low-Earth orbit has increased by half in the last two years. Starlink, the satellite broadband network planned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, already has permission for 30,000 satellites.
This is more than the total number of rotating objects currently being monitored by US authorities. Much of the latter is debris left over from decades of space exploration.
Space debris poses a serious risk to satellites, but collisions of the kind shown in the scientific film Gravity was scarce so far. The most serious accident on record was that of the active communications satellite Iridium 33 with the abandoned Russian military satellite Kosmos-2251 in 2009. The increase in debris can be seen in the graph above. The larger jump was the result of China testing an anti-satellite missile in 2007.
Constellations of satellites in a low-Earth orbit increase the risk of collisions. Once fully deployed, Starlink can debit approximately 300 obsolete satellites at any one time.
The unknown debris is the largest unknown. Researchers the chance that a single junk can hit one of Starlink’s satellites in the 550 km orbit by 0.3 percent annually, at 0.3 percent. The risk increases exponentially with the number of objects. Fortunately, most undetectable debris is small and progress with the detection brings more of it onto the radar and out of the way of satellites.
At the moment, failed launches are the biggest danger to space companies of the kind set up by Musk and rival tycoon Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. The UK-backed satellite company OneWeb recently announced that it has raised $ 1 billion in money insurance coverage with broker Marsh to reduce this risk.
The total exposure to satellite insurance remains relatively modest at only $ 25 billion, of which $ 4 billion covers satellites in a low-Earth orbit, thinks David Wade at the author Atrium. Expect the total to rise, even as countries increase cooperation to prevent the Kessler effect from becoming a reality.
The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Tell us in the comments section below what you think about the risks of space junk