Hugh Lewis from University of Southampton presents The Great Orbital Debris Patch at the Winchester Science Centres monthly talk.
Abstract: Using computer models we can simulate what the space environment might look like over the next 1000 years taking into account many different patterns of space launches and satellite characteristics. A consistent picture of the future emerges when we evaluate these different scenarios and assume our behaviour in space remains unchanged: a new region containing a high concentration of artificial space debris will likely develop at an altitude of about 1400 km. In effect, we will have created our own ring around the Earth. The formation of this region and its characteristics are similar to those of plastic debris patches found in the Earth’s oceans. This ‘Great Orbital Debris Patch’ is relatively indifferent to how we might choose to use space and, crucially, becomes self-supporting. Consistent with the oceanic debris patches, future generations of space users will see consequences increase by orders of magnitude unless appropriate space traffic management systems and debris mitigation practices are put into place.
The Lecturer: Hugh is a Professor of Astronautics and Head of the Astronautics Research Group at the University of Southampton. He has been researching the space debris problem for nearly 20 years and is the author of numerous computer models for understanding how the space debris population might evolve in the future. He is a member of the UK Space Agency delegation to the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee, the world’s leading forum for the discussion of space debris technical issues, and has represented the UK at meetings of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.