As Satellites and Space Junk Proliferate, US to Revise Rules

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Bill-Higdon

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From Slashdot.org
"

"No one imagined commercial space tourism taking hold, no one believed crowd-funded satellites and mega constellations at low earth orbit were possible, and no one could have conceived of the sheer popularity of space entrepreneurship," reads a statement Friday from the chair of America's Federal Communications Commission. "But it's all happening...."

And Reuters reports on what happens next: With Earth's orbit growing more crowded with satellites, a U.S. government agency on Friday said it would begin revising decades-old rules on getting rid of space junk and on other issues such as satellite refueling and inspecting and repairing in-orbit spacecraft. "We believe the new space age needs new rules," Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said after the 4-0 FCC vote, adding that current rules "were largely built for another era."

Rosenworcel said the FCC needs "to make sure our rules are prepared for the proliferation of satellites in orbit and new activities in our higher altitudes."

The FCC also plans to look at "new ways to clean up orbital debris. After all, there are thousands of metric tons of junk in space," Rosenworcel added. The FCC will look at "the potential for orbital debris remediation and removal functions that offer the prospect of improvement in the orbital debris environment....."

"The FCC remains the only agency to license virtually every commercial space mission that touches the United States," FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said. "With that power comes the responsibility to understand the missions we authorize, and to create an enabling regulatory environment that opens new doors while still protecting against new risks."

A statement from the FCC describes their new policy review as a "modernization effort."

And it made a point of acknowledging that in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing has "the potential to build entire industries, create new jobs, mitigate climate change, and advance America's economic, scientific, technological, and national security interests.""

Typical for our Gubberment agencies where the "logical" agency to do the job doesn't do it
 

SpruceForest

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Mmm...not really going to matter if the Chinese keep 'forgetting' to deorbit their junk in a controlled manner during their messy space launches. US: that dude that chucks a couple aluminum Bud cans onto the shoulder of a county highway. China: sociopath that gets his jollies throwing spike strips out every few miles on interstate in snowstorm.
 

SpruceForest

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As indicated, a common trope for sci-fi stuff... down on his/her luck orbital slot cleaner finds 'something'. Reality is several thousand pound pieces of Chinese Long March going long and taking out a hotel tower.
 

tspear

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Mmm...not really going to matter if the Chinese keep 'forgetting' to deorbit their junk in a controlled manner during their messy space launches. US: that dude that chucks a couple aluminum Bud cans onto the shoulder of a county highway. China: sociopath that gets his jollies throwing spike strips out every few miles on interstate in snowstorm.
I wonder how long until someone has the resources to build a small recycling plant powered by solar in orbit. This could be the raw material for the next generation 3D printer. Then use all the space junk as raw material.... much cheaper than bringing stuff up from earth!

Tim
 

Yellowhammer

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I wonder how long until someone has the resources to build a small recycling plant powered by solar in orbit. This could be the raw material for the next generation 3D printer. Then use all the space junk as raw material.... much cheaper than bringing stuff up from earth!

Tim

Why cant we make it burn up on re-entry? Or if we were to gather it up, instead of bringing it back to earth just propel it towards the Sun and I'm certain it would be vaporized.

-YH
 

SpruceForest

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Not a space nerd, but with all the spectrum and new entrant work over the last few years, it's hard not to pick up a little buzz from the Buck Rogers types.

Most legacy US MIC/NASA boosters never get high enough to have to worry about extended decay, so we can plan them out for decent and destructive reentry. Space-X recovers their boosters and reuses them... I think a couple of their Falcons are pushing 12 reuses. Same for Super-Heavy and Starship combo. New Shepard is the same, as well as other entrants working the microsat/small payload niche. I doubt that China, Russia, etc. have anything close to the tech required, so either controlled deorbit or a roll of whatever the Chinese use for a handy pseudo-random low-value integer generator. With the tens of thousands of small sats we'll have in low altitude orbits (Kuiper, Starlink, etc.), the requirement to passively or actively de-orbit upon decommissioning/failure was established as a licensing requirement, so at least on the US LEO constellations, we should be in decent shape, and the launch vehicles are reusable.

Recycling is tough on orbit unless it is preplanned. The old SLS external tanks were a frequent trope in late 1990's sci-fi as space habs, etc., but with retirement, the energy + industrial component + yield to break down what are mixed composite/metallic structures will have to wait on figuring out how to do it at something approaching the cost of just getting it elsewhere out of a shallower gravity well.

The good news to date is that the vast majority of space junk - even active isotope decay power generators - seem to land where population densities are pretty close to zero if sheep don't count. SpaceX had a couple chunks of an intentionally-jettisoned capsule component from one of their manned launches break up/come down last May IMS near the southern-most tip of Australia. Took until this August before anyone noticed, so maybe the use of the Great Southern Ocean as reentry target works OK. The big piece of debris showed lots of carbon fiber that takes re-entry pretty well because the resins ablate. Still sufficiently intact to bury itself a couple feet vertically in the ground, so nice to know Elon builds them to take a lickin'.
 
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SpruceForest

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I wonder how long until someone has the resources to build a small recycling plant powered by solar in orbit. This could be the raw material for the next generation 3D printer. Then use all the space junk as raw material.... much cheaper than bringing stuff up from earth!

Tim
Excellent question...
 
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SpruceForest

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Re: Tspear on recycling...

I have no doubt it will happen, if only to feed on-orbit industry... just have to build that industry. We may be better off leveraging those shallower gravity wells to build things out, then hire a bunch of space sweepers to get the stuff to some sort of reprocessing center on orbit. As to raw materials for orbital infrastructure, there are about 150 million asteroids and other larger pieces of rock or metal in the inner part of our solar system, with just one body (16 Psyche... about 135-140 miles in diameter) estimated to contain something like 700 thousand trillion dollars (the larger sort we used to have in our 401K's prior to 2021-2022) in everything from iron and nickel to precious metals (gold, silver, rubies!!!! kidding... likely no rubies...sorry). Just the gold likely to be found would allow us to return to the gold standard for at least a decade or two (if we can convince the French not to do what they did in the 1960's in their raid on our treasury).
 
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Appowner

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Well, I spent 10 years as an Air Force SatCom tech. Another 16 years as an IT contractor to the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office). And my youngest daughter is full time AF Reserve as a Satellite Controller at a ground station. So satellites have been something of a passing interest in my family but I do not claim to be any kind of expert. Just a bit more experienced than most.

I fail to see how we're going to be able to continue to launch anything with all the junk in orbit. Especially with all these new internet providing LEO birds. I know the orbits of all this junk is being taken into consideration today with regard to launch windows but with the predicted tens of thousands of birds in low earth orbit, LEO Space has got to fill up eventually.

On the flip side any invading ailians will probably think, on seeing us from a distance, that earth is the galaxy's garbage dump. So there's probably a good chance they'll simply drop off their garbage and move on. :)
 

SpruceForest

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Recall the first time someone mentioned she was a satellite driver...was thinking her arms did not look nearly long enough. Yeah... just Starlink may end up with over 40,000 SVs... duck and weave for all those new entrants. Kuiper is relatively small at just 3200 or so SVs... so we could well have something like 50K more things whizzing around in LEO by the end of the decade.
 

BJC

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I doubt that China, Russia, etc. have anything close to the tech required,
If we have the technology, you can be certain that.
has it too.
Space-X recovers their boosters and reuses them
1660132546095.jpeg 0B19EC25-3FC6-4F91-866B-7CD5A9A328F7.jpeg

Top photo: Second stage firing on left, booster firing for deceleration on right.

Bottom photo: just above the horizon, booster firing on landing approach.

60 satellites placed in orbit on this launch.


BJC
 

SpruceForest

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So the ability to steal documents/examples of a technology and to actually be able to design/manufacture/utilize tech are two related but different things. What I look at is whether China is able to deploy the technology, and - like absence of 'Made in PRC' high-tech and mid-tech chips in the market - absence of recoverable PRC rocket boosters seems to me like evidence that we have a few more years before we see China start landing boosters for reuse, and a few more to get it right. I have been wrong before!
 

BJC

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So the ability to steal documents/examples of a technology and to actually be able to design/manufacture/utilize tech are two related but different things.
Agree.
What I look at is whether China is able to deploy the technology, and - like absence of 'Made in PRC' high-tech and mid-tech chips in the market - absence of recoverable PRC rocket boosters seems to me like evidence that we have a few more years before we see China start landing boosters for reuse, and a few more to get it right.
I question why they would want to re-use boosters.
I have been wrong before!
Me too.


BJC
 

Yellowhammer

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Re: Tspear on recycling...

I have no doubt it will happen, if only to feed on-orbit industry... just have to build that industry. We may be better off leveraging those shallower gravity wells to build things out, then hire a bunch of space sweepers to get the stuff to some sort of reprocessing center on orbit. As to raw materials for orbital infrastructure, there are about 150 million asteroids and other larger pieces of rock or metal in the inner part of our solar system, with just one body (16 Psyche... about 135-140 miles in diameter) estimated to contain something like 700 thousand trillion dollars (the larger sort we used to have in our 401K's prior to 2021-2022) in everything from iron and nickel to precious metals (gold, silver, rubies!!!! kidding... likely no rubies...sorry). Just the gold likely to be found would allow us to return to the gold standard for at least a decade or two (if we can convince the French not to do what they did in the 1960's in their raid on our treasury).
The manufacture of metals in space would be far superior to that on earth in terms of how the grain structure is laid out as it cools. A NASA technology transfer specialist, David Adair, who has his own company out of Atlanta called Intersect.

That is all he and his company do is transfer NASA gained technology and make it viable for the civilian market. I have seen him in a video from what seems to be the mid 1980's explaining the transfer of technology that will be available down the road and the things he discusses in his lecture have all come to into reality. In this lecture he talks about things like RF chips, Smart Watches, space manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing (primarily insulin), The Global Positioning System, and other very interesting topics.

Check it out if you ever have the time.



The entire lecture is long but I enjoyed every second of it.

-YH
 
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