In-orbit explosions can be related to the mixing of residual fuel that remain in tanks or fuel lines once a rocket stage or satellite is discarded in Earth orbit. The resulting explosion can destroy the object and spread its mass across numerous fragments with a wide spectrum of masses and imparted speeds.
Credit: ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) has issued an annual report on the status of the space environment.

The report focuses on the time evolution of cataloged and asserted objects in terms of number, mass, and area as well as addressing the global adherence to space debris mitigation measures.

Summary statements

A number of summary statements can be made derived from the presented data in the report, such as:

— The amount of objects, their combined mass, and there combined area has been steadily rising since the beginning of the space age, leading to the appearance of involuntary collisions between operational payloads and space debris.

— The amount of mission related objects released into the space environment is steadily declining, but still significant for rocket bodies.

— Launch traffic into the low Earth orbit protected regions is on the rise, fuelled by the proliferation of small payloads, i.e. below 10.0 kg in mass, during the last few years in terms of number, but not contributing significantly to the mass.

— Between 30 and 60% of all payload mass recently reaching end-of-life in the LEO protected region does so in orbits which adhere to the space debris mitigation measures.

— Around 70% of all rocket body mass recently reaching end-of-life does so in orbits which adhere to the space debris mitigation measures on protecting LEO. A significant amount of this is due to controlled re-entries after launch, a practice which is increasing and was above 20% in 2017.

— Around 90% of all payloads recently reaching end-of-life in the GEO protected region attempt to comply with the space debris mitigation measures. Around 80 % do so successfully.

Earth orbit is a junkyard of human-made space clutter.
Credit: Space Junk 3D, LLC. Melrae Pictures

Transparent overview

The content of the report aims to provide a transparent overview of global space activities, as well as estimate the impact of these activities on the space environment.

Furthermore, the report attempts to quantify the effect of internationally endorsed mitigation measures aimed at sustainability of the environment.

To read the entire document — ESA’s Annual Space Environment Report – go to:

https://www.sdo.esoc.esa.int/environment_report/Space_Environment_Report_latest.pdf

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