European Space Agency plans space junk detection system

February 17th, 2009 - 6:32 am ICT by IANS  

Darmstadt (Germany), Feb 017 (DPA) The European Space Agency (ESA) said Monday it hoped to set up its own detection system for space junk instead of relying on US radar to track the chunks of shattered satellites and spent rockets in earth orbit.

Last week a US satellite accidentally hit an out-of-commission Russian satellite, scattering a trail of debris in space.

Gaele Winters, who heads ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) at Darmstadt, Germany, said the debris would be a danger to ESA’ own satellites in the same orbit. He said ESA need live data so its spacecraft could steer clear of the junk.

Jean-Francois Kaufeler, head of the space junk monitoring department at ESOC, said, “Much more monitoring needs to be done.” Experts are to meet March 30 to April 2 in Darmstadt to swap ideas on how.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) tracks about 13,000 objects in orbit, but ESA estimates hundreds of thousands of distinct items are in orbit. A fragment 1 centimetre across could knock out a satellite if it hit it at speed.

Steering clear of space junk is possible, but requires precise tracking data in advance, the experts said.

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