A Little Satellite Background History: FROM THEN TO NOW
The Flourishing of Artificial Satellites
From Artificial Satellites to Space Debris
From Space Debris to Space Weather
From Space Weather to Space Safety and Sustainability
The Jumpoff: From Living in the Slums to Living on the Moon, Mars, Space Colonies, and Beyond the Solar System (Through Sustainable Earth and Sustainable Outer Space), Or An Elevation of the Human Mindset and the Human Condition to A Higher Living Mode
Honorable Mention And A Big Shout Out to PDCO and CNEOS
A Celebration of Humanity and A Celebration of the Miracle of Life on Earth
I. 2022 WINNER'S PODIUM: Space Delta 2
Please join me in recognizing the Space Delta 2 Squadrons of the USA Space Force. In general, I wish to recognize the USA Department of Defense (DoD) for its role in being a pacesetter in performing the dual tasks of artificial-satellite tracking and artificial-satellite-debris tracking, which, alternatively, are known as space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM) endeavors. In particular, I wish to recognize the 18th, 20th, and 21st squadrons of Space Delta 2 along with the Detachment 2 unit. Over the decades, through Space Delta 2's artificial-satellite tracking and artificial-satellite-debris tracking efforts, the collective squadrons have played pivotal, invaluable, and crucial roles in their efforts to preserve and maintain order within the space-domain realm.
Perhaps Wikipedia put the matter of SSA and STM into perspective more succinctly in the following direct quotation:
USA Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Traffic Management (STM)
"Following the establishment of the United States Space Force, the 21st Space Wing and 21st Operations Group remained units of the U.S. Air Force assigned to United States Space Force. On 24 July 2020, the Space Force reorganized its wings and groups into deltas, inactivating the 21st Space Wing and redesignated the 21st Operations Group as Space Delta 2. Space Delta 2 transferred its space warning squadrons to Space Delta 4, retaining its space domain awareness squadrons. On 21 October 2020, with the redesignation of United States Space Force as Space Operations Command, Space Delta 2 transferred from a unit of the United States Air Force to the United States Space Force."
As the USA Space Force prepares to hand over the task of space-domain awareness to the USA Department of Commerce, this year's award is meant to honor all of those who, over the years, have played a role and led the way in tracking and documenting the proliferation of artificial satellites and artificial satellite debris. As an adjunct to the broader militaristic mission of the USA Space Force, there is a narrower mission to search, find, document, track, and notify interested parties or stakeholders about likely or impending satellite-collision dangers and satellite-debris dangers.
AUTHOR'S SIDE NOTE: Although many reorganizations and realignments have occurred within the USA Department of Defense since the of inception of its space situational awareness (SSA) mission, SSA has been a core part of the USA's overall military defensive posture since 1958 when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) unit was created within the USA Department of Defense. According to wikipedia.org, "Space Detection and Tracking System, or SPADATS, was built in 1960 to integrate defense systems built by different branches of the United States Armed Forces and was placed under North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The Air Force had a program called Spacetrack, which was a network of space-probing cameras and radar…Project Space Track was a research and development project of the US Air Force, to create a tracking system for all artificial satellites of the Earth and space probes, domestic and foreign." In effect, SPADATS of 1960 has morphed into the Office of Space Commerce in 2022.
This year's 2022 Annual Bruessard Award specifically is devoted to shining a brighter spotlight on the universal need for more substantive and astute artificial-satellites and artificial-satellite-debris tracking and management. The USA Department of Defense has played a prominent role in this outer-space or space-domain realm. This page will not be examining topics such as the militarization of outer space, national security, or intelligence-gathering types of activities currently taking place in Earth's outer space domain. This year's award is confined to examining the "surveil" aspect of the broader space domain, which means to surveil the movements and positions of artificial satellites and artificial-satellite debris. The purpose of this year's award is to draw attention to and celebrate some of the more peaceful and beneficial uses that humans have made of atmospheric outer space.
Elsewhere, I have made a distinction between my primary mission in life (which is to enlighten, inspire, promote, and exalt the dream of "an Earth that can be") versus the military's mission (which is to cope with the realities of "an Earth that is"). The military goes about the business of doing what it does, and I go about the business of doing what I do. In my case, what I do is to encourage peace on Earth and goodwill between humans. I go about the business of promoting life, prosperity, and growth for the whole of the human family. [End AUTHOR'S SIDE NOTE]
Getting back to the 2022 Annual Bruessard Award, an often repeated phrase or proverb goes something like this: "Everything comes to an end," which is attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer, the English author, poet, and philosopher. Such is the case when it comes to artificial satellites in orbit in outer space. Artificial satellites, too, come to an end in the sense that they stop functioning whether from accidental collisions, deliberate collisions, missile strikes, mechanical failures, or being hit by a shower of meteorites or a shower of artificial satellite debris. Artificial satellites do not function forever. At some point after launch, artificial satellites will stop working. The question becomes this: What will happen to these inoperable artificial satellites and satellite parts floating around immediately above Earth in outer space? Historically, the chore of managing satellite traffic in outer space has fallen to the USA Department of Defense. Today, as of 2022, there are multiple players and countries involved in the dual tasks of artificial-satellite tracking and artificial-satellite-debris tracking.
With multiple countries now launching artificial satellites into outer space and with outer space increasingly being used for civilian and commercial purposes, how is the space domain to be organized, standardized, managed, and regulated going forward for the remainder of the 21st century and beyond? The multilateral United Nations (UN)'s Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which has been signed by at least 112 countries, stipulates that outer space shall remain free for all countries to use and with no particular country having any type of ownership claims to any part of outer space. As is typically the case in situations like this, in theory, outer space belongs to nobody in particular. In reality, outer space is dominated by those countries and businesses with the knowledge, resources, expertise, and wherewithal to harness it.
Over the years since NORAD's 1957 inception, when it comes to the task of tracking artificial satellites and artificial satellite debris, USA Department of Defense has undergone countless iterations or organizational changes. During the Trump Presidency, the most recent iteration or organizational change to occur regarding the USA Department of Defense's approach to space domain awareness / space situational awareness was the creation of the United States Space Force (USSF) on December 20, 2019. The next three graphics illustrate how the United States Space Force fits within the overall organizational structure of the USA Department of Defense. The graphics drill down to the military-space segment of the multi-segmented space domain. Finally, the "surveil" aspect of military space is where Space Delta 2 resides. Click each of the three graphics for additional information.
Also, during the Trump Presidency, it was noted that, more than likely, the space domain would become increasingly commercial in scope, hence, the launching of more artificial satellites into outer space. As a result, a huge change was proposed to the USA's approach for overseeing SSA/STM activities in outer space. A decision was made to migrate, transition, or reassign the tasks of artificial-satellites tracking and artificial-satellite-debris tracking from the auspices of the military's USA Department of Defense. A decision was made to transfer SSA/STM tasks to the civilian USA Department of Commerce. As of 2022, the USA Commerce Department will be in charge of the USA's artificial-satellites tracking and artificial-satellite-debris tracking efforts.
With passage of the USA Congress's Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which was adopted on 27-December-2020, the USA Commerce Department received its initial funding to build a prototype space domain tracking and management system. The USA Commerce Department's Office of Space Commerce is expected to have a new space domain tracking and management system in operation by 2024. [It also should be noted that, within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) broader Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA), USA governmental entities such as NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office (ODPO) continue to play tertiary roles in orbital-debris tracking.] The next graphic shows a straight line, top-to-bottom view of the USA Department of Commerce's organization. The next graphic drills down to Office of Space Commerce where it currently resides under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Discussions are underway to move the Office of Space Commerce from NOAA to a different reporting structure within the USA Department of Commerce due to the Office of Space Commerce's expanded responsibilities, visibility, and the increased commercialization of the space domain.
Looking back to recent 20th century history, the Internet had its origins in the USA Department of Defense. The Internet, in general, and the World Wide Web, in particular, later came to be dominated by commercial interests. In a similar vein, going back to the 1950's and 1960's, the space domain (including the presence of artificial satellites) primarily was dominated by the USA and was under the purview of the USA military. Now, as of 2022, an Internet parallel phenomenon is occurring whereby the space domain is beginning to be dominated by multi-national commercial interests. More and more private, commercial satellites are being launched into orbit each year by more and more countries and businesses.
In tandem with the increasing commercialization of the space domain, a commercial space ecosystem has begun to emerge to support the rapid population of the Earth's atmosphere with artificial satellites. The USA Department of Commerce tentatively intends to create an all-encompassing, international-friendly system for tracking artificial satellites and artificial satellite debris. The new cloud-based open architecture data repository (OADR) approach, globally, is supposed to be capable of receiving, integrating, and analyzing satellite and satellite-debris data from multiple public-sector, social-sector, and private-sector sources. Similar approaches already exist such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)'s Observing Systems Capability Analysis and Review (OSCAR) approach for monitoring global weather patterns, Climate Analytics / NewClimate Institute's Climate Action Tracker approach for monitoring climate change, and Caltech/JPL's Solar System Dynamics (SSD) approach for mapping Solar System objects including comets and asteroids.
The following organizational charts provide a fuller overview of the USA Department of Commerce. In particular, these charts drill down from the USA Department of Commerce to its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) unit, and finally to its National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) office where NOAA's Office of Space Commerce presently resides. The tracking of artificial satellites and artificial satellite debris will occur within the Office of Space Commerce. Notably, the fiscal year 2023 USA federal budget's proposes $87.7 million in funding for the Office of Space Commerce including moving the Office of Space Commerce from within NEDIS to the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Observations and Prediction's reporting line within broader the USA Department of Commerce's organizational framework.
One thing is certain, and it is this: Given the altogether millions of pieces of space debris floating around above Earth—albeit the overwhelming majority of them are very tiny pieces of debris that are less than 1 millimeter in size— and given the proliferation of artificial satellite launches, the USA Department of Commerce's Office of Space Commerce will have its long-term work cut out for itself, that is, in getting its arms around tracking and managing the paths of all of those artificial satellites and all of that orbital debris. The next graphic illustrates this enormous amount of space debris presently in orbit around Earth.
A debt of gratitude is owed to the USA Department of Defense for all of its space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM) efforts over the years as it hands over the SSA/STM job to the USA Department of Commerce. The USA Department of Defense has performed its SSA/STM role admirably. For instance, the USA Department of Defense and its 18th Space Defense Squadron (18 SDS) have accomplished tremendous work over the years in the ongoing feeding of space situational awareness data to the globally popular space-track.org website. As for the USA Department of Commerce's Office of Space Commerce, as it prepares to inherit the reigns of performing SSA/STM-related functions, as some would put it, the Office of Space Commerce has "one ginormous headache" on its hands. It will be a challenge for the Office of Space Commerce to devise a system from the ground up, so to speak, to track all of those artificial satellites and all of that artificial satellite debris floating around in Earth's outer space. Good luck and stay tuned for more to come from the Office of Space Commerce.
Admittedly, most space-debris graphics are somewhat alarming. They give an impression of severe overcrowdedness in outer space. Judging from the maps and graphics, it appears as if a rocket launched into space would find it difficult to maneuver through the debris. The fact of the matter is this: Space is big and mostly empty. There is a lot of voidness up there in the vacuum of outer space. At the same time, if the amount of debris above Earth begins to proliferate exponentially to a tipping point or precipice (that is, if the so-called Kessler effect occurs in honest), then conceivably the space debris could hinder the ability of spacecraft and artificial satellites to safely navigate through Earth's atmospheric outer space domain at some future date.
After viewing the various artificial-satellite and artificial-space-debris tracking maps and graphics, an obvious question becomes this: If there are so many artificial satellites orbiting Earth and if there is so much artificial satellite debris currently in orbit above Earth, then how can it be that humans simply cannot look to the sky and view some of that stuff floating around up there in orbit above Earth? The answers are varied such as:
The distance, size, and brightness of an object impact vision.
Weather conditions on Earth (such as cloud cover and smog) impact vision.
It has been noted that, on average, the human eye vertically can perceive objects (such as artificial satellites) for up to about 25 or so miles into the sky. On the other hand, humans can perceive distant stars in the night sky because they are both very large and very bright against the background of a dark sky. Even closer to home, humans have no problem whatsoever viewing the relatively large Moon, which is brightly lit at night by the light of the Sun.
It also has been noted that, whereas most commercial airplanes do not fly any higher than 14 kilometers (or close to 9 miles) high in the sky, some of the lowest artificial satellites orbit the Earth at about 200 kilometers (or close to 125 miles) high in the sky. According to NOAA, artificial satellites can range in size anywhere from the size of a lunch box to the size of a school bus. The largest artificial satellite in orbit around Earth is the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS orbits the sky at roughly 410 kilometers (or roughly 255 miles) above Earth and is said to be about the size of a football field. Keep in mind that most of the tracked space debris is no larger than the size of a baseball. Noting how difficult it is for humans to see an airplane flying at 14 kilometers in the sky without intensive focusing using the naked eye, it would be quite difficult indeed to stand on Earth and see an object the size of a baseball floating around in the sky at over 200 kilometers away. Websites such as n2yo.com and findstarlink.com do permit humans to track various artificial satellites high in the sky as do various mobile phone applications.
For purposes of defining the meaning of being an official astronaut, you would need to venture at least 80 kilometers (or 50 miles) into the space above Earth. At 100 kilometers (or 62 miles) above Earth, the so-called Kármán line has been reached which represents the officially recognized boundary between Earth and outer space. When space tourism spacecrafts such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic conduct launches, they at least strive to reach the 80-kilometer marker of outer space before returning to Earth. Notice how spectators on the ground cannot see those space tourism spacecrafts when they reach a height of 80 kilometers (or 50 miles) in the sky. Imagine if much smaller artificial satellites orbit the Earth at much higher heights than the space tourism spacecrafts, then it would be all the more difficult to see these artificial satellites with the naked eye with all other things being equal such as the absence of a reflecting light. The point here is this: For the most part, the naked eye is not equipped to perceive these artificial satellites orbiting above Earth. The next graphic depicts the location of the Kármán line in outer space.
In terms of maps depicting overcrowdedness in outer space, good analogies to the mapping of artificial satellites relative to Earth would be the mapping of airplane flight traffic and the mapping of locations of USA vehicle fuel charging stations. (See airplane flight traffic and electric vehicle fueling stations graphics above.) In terms of the distances between airplanes in the sky or charging stations on the ground, the reality is this: They are not nearly about as congested or cluttered together as they appear on the map. Anyone who has flown on an airplane knows fully well that there are not lots of airplanes flying about all around them. Anyone on the ground might recognize numerous fossil fuel service stations but they are not likely to see very many equivalent electric vehicle charging stations. The airplane flight traffic maps and vehicle fuel charging stations maps do not reflect a deliberate attempt to mislead the viewer. Rather, it is difficult to accurately depict the true scale of airplanes, charging stations, or artificial satellites on a map relative to the size of Earth because they would be too tiny to see.
Understandably, for national security purposes, there are certain military-related satellites in outer space that countries do not want their whereabouts to be publicized. After all, the military's presence in the space domain began not so much to track artificial satellites. The military's initial involvement in the space domain was for both offensive and defensive purposes but mainly as a monitoring safeguard against missile attacks. At the same time, with the current number of satellite launches and the amount of satellite debris expanding exponentially, it is crucial to devise a technology capable of tracking the orbits of as many satellites and as much satellite debris as possible.
The next accordion graphic below illustrates how, over the ensuing years, a cottage industry or ecosystem has emerged or sprouted for the purpose of spacecraft launches, satellite tracking, and satellite-debris tracking. The accordion graphic below only represents a sampling of some of the more notable players in this cottage industry for satellite tracking, satellite-debris tracking, and space launches. The accordion graphic is by no means comprehensive or exhaustive.
A Representative View of the Burgeoning and Flourishing Artificial Satellite Ecosystem to Emerge Over the Decades Since the 1950's
1. View the Public Sector's Connections to Artificial Satellites
The next graphic provides a general overview of current developments in outer space, say, from 100 to 50,000 miles (160 to 80,000 kilometers) immediately above Earth.
The next graphic outlines the type of comprehensive approach and international cooperation that will be required to successfully meet the challenges posed by the anticipated explosive growth in artificial satellites launches along with the expected exponential growth in satellite debris going forward into the future.
II. A Little Satellite Background History: FROM THEN TO NOW
What is a satellite? A satellite is a natural or human-made object that travels around or orbits something else. There are natural satellites such as the Moon (which travels around the Earth) or the planets (which travel around the Sun). For example, Earth is a natural satellite of the Sun. The Moon is a natural satellite of Earth.
And there are artificial satellites such as the International Space Station (which also travels around the Earth). Normally, when a smaller body orbits a larger body, the smaller body is said to be a satellite of the larger body.
The natural satellite story goes back to all of eternity. Questions surrounding the origins of Existence (namely, the Universe, Galaxies, Solar System, Earth, and life on Earth) are vociferously debated among theologians, scholars, scientists and laypersons. Suffice it to say that the Universe exists. Among the Universe's existence is the wondrous galaxy known as the Milky Way galaxy. Among the wondrous Milky Way galaxy is the splendid Solar System.
Among the splendid Solar System is magnificent planet Earth, which is the only known planet to harbor the miracle of life. Circling or orbiting planet Earth is its world renowned natural satellite called the Moon. The next graphic shows a legacy or traditional view of Earth, the Moon, and the surrounding Solar System neighborhood.
Since time immemorial, humans have viewed the Moon as the only known object or natural satellite to orbit Earth. On average, the distance of the Moon from Earth is some 384,400 kilometers or 238,855 miles away. Led by the USSR's (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or present-day Russia's) 20th century space-navigation ingenuity, the Moon-only orbit of Earth picture was about to change. With the launch of the USSR's Sputnik artificial satellite in 1957, suddenly, the Moon had a companion to orbit Earth. The USSR's 1957 launch of Sputnik was later followed by the USA's 1958 launch of the Explorer 1 artificial satellite. These Earth-orbiting companions came to be known as artificial satellites.
The Moon rotates as it orbits the Earth. Video Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio
Why Doesn't the Moon Fall Down? Video Credit: pbslearningmedia.org
Some background and historical information are in order here. How and why did these kinds of artificial-satellite and satellite-debris discussions come into being? The short answer is that it all began with Sputnik. But, before Sputnik, there was the great Sir Isaac Newton. To put the satellite and satellite-debris problem into historical perspective, the story goes back to 1687 when the great Sir Isaac Newton published his book titled Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy"). Sir Isaac Newton mathematically outlined his laws of motion and his universal law of gravitation to explain how the Universe works at a large-scale, mechanical level. Sir Isaac Newton's math provided a more sophisticated explanation for the observed motions of the planets. (It should be noted that Sir Isaac Newton's insights into the workings of gravity represented a revision of Johannes Kepler's insights into the motions of planets. Of course, Albert Einstein would emerge many years later to radically transform the Newtonian view of how the Universe works. Einstein's theory of relativity is the subject for a different discussion and will not be discussed here.)
One revelation to emerge from Sir Isaac Newton's work was that, with the appropriate amount of force, objects could be made to permanently leave planet Earth—or to permanently leave any heavenly body for that matter. This force is known as the heavenly body's escape velocity. Given the accumulated body of knowledge in the field of space science since Sir Isaac Newton's time, among many, many other things, NASA has devised various planetary planetaryfactsheets. Some of these factsheets reveal the escape velocities for different planets in the Solar System. According to NASA's tables, the escape velocity for Earth is a force of at least 11.2 kilometers per second (or 7.0 miles per second), which translates into roughly 40,320 kilometers per hour or 25,100 miles per hour. For any motion towards outer space below the Earth's specified escape velocity of 40,320 kilometers per hour or 25,100 miles per hour, the object would fall back down to Earth due to the force of gravity.
Another revelation to be mathematically deduced or derived from Sir Isaac Newton's work was that, with a precise amount of force or velocity (that is, not too fast and not too slow), objects could be made to orbit around a heavenly body in much the same manner as the Moon orbits around Earth or the planets orbit around the Sun. It was this insight into Sir Isaac Newton's work that enabled humans to compute precisely what dynamics were required to place artificial satellites into orbit around Earth—and, indeed, to place artificial satellites into orbit around other heavenly bodies in the Solar System, too.
The following videos and graphic provide insights into the mathematics behind satellite orbits.
Also, before Sputnik and before humans could fathom the notion of flying in Earth's outer space domain, it was those daring Wright brothers who first entertained and tinkered with the notion of humans flying at all. They introduced the world to mechanized flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Notwithstanding pre-existing human flight using hot-air balloons dating back to the late 1700's, suddenly, the Wright brothers paved the way for humans to soar into the sky just like the birds soar. The Wright brothers' feat with mechanized flight inspired humans to reach for the stars.
The contemporary artificial satellite story began in earnest with the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or present-day Russia) in the person of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935). He was a pioneer in the field of rocket science. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky pioneering work contributed to Russia's successful launch into orbit of its Sputnik artificial satellite in 1957.
"History changed on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I. The world's first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball (58 cm.or 22.8 inches in diameter), weighed only 83.6 kg. or 183.9 pounds, and took about 98 minutes to orbit Earth on its elliptical path. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R space race." Source: NASA
Not only was the USSR the first country to launch an artificial satellite into orbit around Earth but also it was the first country to place a human into orbit around Earth. On April 12, 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin completed one orbit around Earth in the USSR's Vostok 1 capsule. As captured by the UN's space timeline, the USSR has logged numerous "firsts" in outer space. When it comes to navigating the outer space domain, clearly, Russia has been a trailblazer. Russia has led the way.
With the USSR successfully launching both a satellite and a human into orbit around Earth, the space race had begun in earnest. Or, as the saying goes, the rest is history. To be sure, nowadays as of 2022, the USA, China, and the European Union have begun to equal and even eclipse the Russian prowess in the field of space exploration.
The emergence and prominence of artificial satellites are causing humans to view the Solar System neighborhood—and the entire Universe—in a new light. The next graphic shows a more contemporary, 21st century view of Earth and the Solar System. Based on the next graphic and based on humans' contemporary presence in the outer space domain as of 2022, evidently, humans have come a long ways since Yuri Gagarin's first human flight into outer space in 1961.
The USA's military initial involvement in satellite tracking cannot exactly be described as emanating from neither nefarious nor benevolent motivations. Rather, the USA's military involvement in satellite tracking and harnessing the outer space domain was for national security purposes to promote the common national defense. In its professed mission to militarily dominate the outer space domain, the USA military found it necessary to keep track of the various artificial satellites orbiting Earth.
Satellite Motion. Video Credit: pbslearningmedia.org
This animation shows the orbits of NASA's fleet of Earth observing spacecraft that were operational as of March 2017.
If the Moon is the most popular natural satellite seen above Earth, then one of the most recognized or well-known artificial satellites currently in orbit around Earth has to be the International Space Station (ISS).
As of 2022, when it comes to total number of active satellites currently in orbit above Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) and the China's Tiangong Space Station (CSS) perhaps are two of the most prominent artificial satellites of them all as depicted by the graphics and simulations below. Possibly, they are two of the most prominent artificial satellites due both to their large sizes and also due to the fact that they host humans aboard as a place to live.
Views of the International Space Station (ISS)
Views of China's Tiangong space station (CSS) - screen image captured at Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 16, 2021 shows three Chinese astronauts, Zhai Zhigang (center), Wang Yaping (right) and Ye Guangfu, waving after entering the space station core module Tianhe. (Xinhua/Tian Dingyu)
SpaceX, the company, serves as a vivid example of the benefits of space exploration. Perhaps the most curious, interesting, and simple artificial satellite of them all is SpaceX's Tesla Roadster Starman satellite. Unlike, say, its Starlink satellites, SpaceX's Tesla Roadster Starman is a novelty artificial satellite in that it does not host a lot of technical capabilities on board. It appears that SpaceX's Tesla Roadster Starman was one of those just-for-fun projects. At the same time, on a more serious note, SpaceX's Tesla Roadster Starman satellite serves a beacon to shine a light on the human potential for leaving planet Earth and accomplishing big things in space. SpaceX's Tesla Roadster Starman satellite serves as a vivid and novel illustration of the enormous benefits to be reaped from space exploration.
SpaceX employees watch the Falcon 9 SES-8 launch from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA
Fast forward to 2022, and a new challenge has arisen. This new challenge is one that resides above Earth, and it is not the inordinate amount of carbon dioxide and methane being injected into the atmosphere, thus, spurring an onset of climate change. Rather, this new challenge is that of a growing proliferation of artificial satellites orbiting Earth and, more importantly, the concomitant spread of satellite debris.
Scientists and researchers, in conjunction with telescopes and space probes, have documented both the composition of the Solar System's asteroid belt and the rings of Saturn. Both the asteroid belt and Saturn's rings are comprised of an assortment of orbiting rocks and boulders of various sizes. They are orbiting at great rates of speed. They can be viewed as a form of orbital debris.
Many do not appreciate the fact that Earth has its very own version of an asteroid belt of sorts. The Earth's version of an asteroid belt comes in the form of the thousands of artificial satellites and millions of pieces of space debris in orbit around Earth. Problems proliferate or get compounded when some of these satellites stop functioning and when some artificial satellites collide. The end result is the growth of more and more idle debris encircling Earth. Could this Earth debris transform itself into a ring around Earth at some date far into the future?
Humans are all too familiar with images of out-of-control pollution, blight, garbage, waste, debris, and conflict on Earth. The question becomes this: Do humans also want to repeat the equivalent of out-of-control pollution, blight, garbage, waste, debris, and conflict above Earth?
What is Space Junk? Video Credit: pbslearningmedia.org
Press the "Esc" key to exit satellite map's full screen mode
Richie Carmichael's depiction of objects in the US Space Surveillance Network (SSN) catalog are shown. Sizes of the dots relative to size of Earth are not to scale.
"The orbital debris dots are scaled according to the image size of the graphic to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth. These images provide a good visualization of where the greatest orbital debris populations exist." Source: orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov
Australian Space Academy's Guide to Orbital Space Debris
Dr. J.-C. Liou outlines the primary causes of space debris as follows:
Mission-related debris: objects released during normal mission operations (engine covers, yo-yo despin weights, etc.)
Solid rocket motor effluents (Al2O3 slag and dust particles)
NaK droplets (coolant leaked from Russian nuclear reactors)
Surface degradation debris (paint flakes, etc.)
Perhaps NASA put the matter of orbital debris into perspective more succinctly in the following direct quotation:
Orbital Debris Also Known As "Space Junk"
"Millions of pieces of orbital debris exist today—at least 26,000 of which are the size of a softball or larger that could destroy a satellite on impact; over 500,000 of these are the size of a marble big enough to cause damage; and over 100 million are the size of a grain of salt that could puncture a spacesuit—amplifying the risk of catastrophic collisions to spacecraft and crew. Moreover, the growing volume of orbital debris threatens the loss of important space-based applications used in daily life, such as weather forecasting, telecommunications, and global positioning systems that are dependent on a stable space environment. Orbital debris is a global concern with stakeholders across public, civil, and private sectors who have adopted an array of guidelines, standards, and policies to limit the generation of future debris. However, global compliance with these guidelines, standards, and policies remains low, and global remediation activities designed to remove existing debris from space are limited and largely in the planning phases of development."
Perhaps one of the most definitive documentary films about the looming problem of satellite debris is the film titled Space Junk 3D.
V. From Space Debris to Space Weather
As explained by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), "space weather can influence the performance & reliability of numerous technological systems that we depend on daily such as GPS, power grids & satellite communication." The emergence of space weather-tracking satellites and the study of space weather is to keep "a close eye on space weather alerting the public & key industries when solar storms impact Earth."
Solar Space Telescopes. Video Credit: pbslearningmedia.org
Adverse physical phenomena across Earth such as climate change and global warming typically are attributed to the activities of humans on Earth. Space weather, on the other hand, is attributed to activities emanating from the Sun with potential adverse impacts for humans on Earth. Artificial satellite collisions and space debris are not the only challenges facing humans emanating from outer space. The possibility of adverse space weather is another major challenge. Noting this challenge, humans have begun monitoring space weather emanating from activities occurring on the Sun.
The USA Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been a trailblazer in the study, monitoring, and forecasting of space weather. Some of NOAA's work on space weather is illustrated below.
Without a doubt, if something truly horrific or harmful for Earth ever occurred on the Sun, say, for instance, a solar tsunami type of an event, then humans will find out about it soon enough. Space weather tracking merely serves as an early-warning system thanks in large measure to Sun-observing satellites. Space weather tracking serves as a buffer to give humans enough time to react and protect themselves if something terrible or life-threatening for Earth occurred on the Sun.
Perhaps NASA put the matter of space weather into perspective more succinctly in the following direct quotation:
Space Weather: A Brief Introduction
"Though space is about a thousand times emptier than even the best laboratory vacuums on Earth, it’s not completely devoid of matter – the sun’s constant outflow of solar wind fills space with a thin and tenuous wash of particles, fields, and plasma. This solar wind, along with other solar events like giant explosions called coronal mass ejections, influences the very nature of space and can interact with the magnetic systems of Earth and other worlds. Such effects also change the radiation environment through which our spacecraft – and, one day, our astronauts headed to Mars – travel. The space environment around Earth can also vary wildly in response not only to the Sun, but from upwelling atmospheric events from below. Such space weather can interfere with satellite electronics, radio communications and GPS signals, spacecraft orbits, and even – when extreme – power grids on Earth. Like our terrestrial weather, space weather can be extreme at times, but exists all the time. As such, it is important to understand space weather in order to predict and accommodate to it."
VI. From Space Weather to Space Safety and Sustainability
As mentioned earlier, the not-so-good aspect of artificial satellites is that they are not designed to operate forever. Not only do artificial satellites break down and stop working but also there are accidental collisions between artificial satellites and sometimes the deliberate destruction of artificial satellites. The problem and the challenge become these:
Determining what to do with these artificial satellites when their useful lives have ended. Do they remain in orbit in perpetuity? Are they jettisoned back to Earth to burn up when re-entering the Earth's atmosphere? Are they safely collected and disposed of on Earth in a planned and organized manner? Is the artificial satellite launch technology improved to minimize the occurrence of debris?
What could or should be done about all of the artificial satellite debris currently floating in orbit above Earth?
The outer space sustainability movement has emerged in tandem with the broader anti-climate change, anti-global warming, and pro-sustainable development movements on Earth. As the United Nations organization puts it, the global idea behind these various movements is to "to promote prosperity while protecting the planet." There is a general recognition that not only should there be sustainable development on Earth but also sustainable development in the immediate atmosphere above Earth.
In the next graphic, Dr. J.-C. Liou describes the challenges confronting humans in coping with a proliferation of space debris as follows:
In the next graphic, Dr. J.-C. Liou describes a projected worst-case scenario confronting humans if little to no actions are taken to mitigate the proliferation of 10-centimeter-sized space debris objects and larger as follows:
Perhaps NASA put the matter of space sustainability into perspective more succinctly in the following direct quotation:
Promoting Space Sustainability
"The Earth's orbital space environment constitutes a finite resource that is being used by an increasing number of States, international intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental entities. The proliferation of space debris, the increasing complexity of space operations, the emergence of large constellations and the increased risks of collision and interference with the operation of space objects may affect the long-term sustainability of space activities. Addressing these developments and risks requires international cooperation by States and international intergovernmental organizations to avoid harm to the space environment and the safety of space operations."
VII. The Jumpoff: From Living in the Slums to Living on the Moon, Mars, Space Colonies, and Beyond the Solar System (Through Sustainable Earth and Sustainable Outer Space), Or An Elevation of the Human Mindset and the Human Condition to A Higher Living Mode
The jumpoff means the human uplift. The jumpoff means humankind making a deliberate choice to foster peace and prosperity on Earth as a matter of course in daily living. The jumpoff means jumping off to a better world. The jumpoff means jumping off to a state of sustainable living. The jumpoff means jumping off planet Earth and also living on another heavenly body in outer space. The jumpoff means to rise above the mire and elevate the human condition to ever-higher living standards.
As summarized by the Sustainable Development Goals graphic below, humankind is continually confronted with an array of challenges and problems to tackle. Humankind is continually bombarded with a seemingly endless array of challenges. Could it be that some answers and some solutions to these problems and challenges, in part, might emanate from human endeavors such as the peaceful exploration—and colonization—of space? It is a thought to ponder. For, ultimately, the jumpoff is about human choosing a life of Heaven on Earth over a life of Hell on Earth. Ultimately, the jumpoff is about human choosing survival over extinction. Choose life. Choose Heaven on Earth.
Perhaps the UN put the matter of global sustainable development into perspective more succinctly in the following direct quotation:
"The Sustainable Development Goals are a call for action by all countries – poor, rich and middle-income – to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection."
The next slideshow offers stark, graphical evidence that the present-day human mindset and the present-day human condition are not all to the good. Numerous humans needs remain unfulfilled, and numerous challenges continue to confront humankind. All humans need to be properly fed, clothed, and sheltered in accordance with some minimum globally accepted standard of subsistence.
Inspirational Songs and Videos Exalting the Human Uplift
The next three graphics signify humans jumping off from Earth to artificial satellites, to the Moon, to Mars, and ultimately to space colonies.
Perhaps SWF (Secure World Foundation) put the matter of space sustainability into perspective more succinctly in the following direct quotation:
"Space sustainability is…Ensuring that all humanity can continue to use outer space for peaceful
purposes and socioeconomic benefit now and in the long term. This will
require international cooperation, discussion, and agreements designed
to ensure that outer space is safe, secure, and peaceful."
As humans go about the task of tracking and cataloging artificial satellites and also harnessing space debris, it must be asked this: What happened to the "kind" part in humankind? Has the time arrived for a global human mindset reset for the betterment of humanity? A new mindset is needed to prepare humans for 22nd century living. A better way does exist for humans to live in the 22nd century. For, as the saying goes, "where there's a will, there's a way" to make this better way of living a human reality rather than just another illusionary dream.
It turns out that these same 4 C's also apply to fostering and maintaining an enduring state of harmony within the diverse human family.
VIII. Honorable Mention And A Big Shout Out to PDCO and CNEOS
If you thought that the prospects for artificial-satellite congestion, space debris, and adverse space weather were the worst of Earth's concerns from outer space, then think again. There's more. The region of the Solar System between Mars and Jupiter is known as the asteroid belt. It is estimated that there are well over one million asteroids floating around within the asteroid belt region. Asteroids can be viewed as natural space debris within the Solar System. Whereby, up to 2022, the USA Department of Defense has maintained primary responsibility for artificial-satellite and artificial-satellite-debris tracking, NASA has maintained primary responsibility for comets and asteroids tracking.
In concluding this year 2022's Annual Bruessard Award, and on a separate but related note, I wish to extend honorable mention to NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) and its Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS). CNEOS is responsible for computing asteroid and comet orbit trajectories and the odds of errant asteroids and comets colliding into Earth. PDCO, in conjunction with domestic and international partners such as The Planetary Society, International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN), and the Minor Planet Center (MPC), is responsible for warning the public and responding to any potential asteroid or comet collision with Earth. PDCO and CNEOS are highly invested in—and devoted to—serving as humankind's early-warning system if an errant asteroid or comet should threaten to strike Earth.