Catch of the day – Space Debris

We here in Australia love to tell fishing stories, in every pub there will always be tales and legends about the one that got away or the fabled “it was this big” story with no evidence ever being presented but one 73-year-old fisherman in Brazil has caught one “this big” and a darn site bigger and has the evidence to back it up too.

So what did he catch? No, it wasn’t a Barramundi or a Snapper it was a large chunk of space debris in the river Uriandeua that took 10 locals from Salinopolis to haul ashore. The car-sized debris was reported to the local military and the owner has quickly identified thanks to the union jack being emblazoned on part of the object next to “UK Space Agency” with the logo of Arianespace, the European satellite company.

The UK Space Agency said the object was part of the payload covering launched by an Ariane 5 rocket carrying the communications satellite AlphaSat to orbit, which was launched from the Kourou base in neighbouring French Guiana last July. Julia Short, a spokeswoman for the UK Space Agency said: “It probably landed in the Atlantic and then floated inland”. Inmarsat, the manufacturer said Alphasat is the largest and most sophisticated European telecommunications satellite to date.

From the Brazilian locals and Government point of view, this find is not a good one as they see it as an unwelcome piece of rubbish in their environment and the authorities have asked the UK government to remove it.

Catch of the day
Catch of the day

What this find does point out is a truth that most of us are already keenly aware of, as species, we are dumping our trash without impunity. A new underwater autonomous vehicle that is taking footage of the deepest parts of our ocean for the first time is finding trash bags and cans. This may not seem like a big deal but it means that our trash has boldly gone there before us, its creators. The search for missing jetliner MH360 is also another example of this as the search team kept finding large debris in the ocean but not that of the missing flight.

As we move forward as species we need to take a long hard look at what we can do to minimise the impact on our environment with all our endeavours, especially when it’s a high profile and inspiring thing like the space programme. The Fairing in question is used to protect the satellite during its launch and is then discarded once it has reached orbit, why not integrate the fairing design into the design of the satellite its self.

For instance, the fairing could be designed to have solar panels built into its underside and once the satellite is in orbit it unfolds like a flower, exposing them to the solar winds collecting energy. One added bonus could be to retract the fairing to protect it if they detect any space debris that may damage the satellite. This is only one idea that would raise the cost of the launch thanks to the extra weight to reach its specific orbit but the point remains the same, we need to do better.

Stay Curious – C.Costigan


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