Do you have any idea how many artificial satellites are in orbit? According to estimates, since they began to be launched in the late 1950s, more than 9,000 of these devices have been sent into space – and currently there are about 3,000 of them still in operation surrounding the Earth. Did you find a lot? Because the forecast is that, with technological advances and cheaper equipment, more than a thousand will be launched a year soon.
The truth is that, despite this immense amount of satellites being controversial – it will say that ideas like “space junk” and “risk of collision” did not cross your mind! -, most of these devices play a fundamental role in scientific development, territorial monitoring and telecommunications, for example, and, therefore, are indispensable. However, this equipment is delicate and susceptible to irreparable damage (in addition to potential crashes!), And can cause serious problems for earthlings. Here are the biggest challenges associated with satellites:
Starting with the most obvious, you must have seen in the movies what can happen when objects collide and thousands of debris start traveling through space, right? With the number of satellites in orbit – and those to be launched in the coming years – it will be necessary to find ways to prevent accidents and possible chain destruction.
According to Herbert Funsten, from Space.com, an option – proposed by scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in the USA – would be the installation of devices called ELROI that, through the emission of unique sequences of light pulses, would allow the tracking any satellite using telescopes on Earth. With that, a system could be created to monitor the traffic of objects in orbit and to control their movement and trajectory, as is done with commercial aircraft on the planet.
Although they were designed to remain in orbit and to be exposed to the harsh conditions of space, the electronic components of the satellites do not support very well the bombardments of cosmic rays or particles from the solar winds – and can be completely rendered useless by them.
To work around this problem, scientists are developing ways to predict when solar storms and cosmic waves can arrive here, that is, researchers are looking for ways to become space meteorologists. If it is not easy to predict events here on Earth, imagine in the cosmos! But, according to Herbert, there are very promising initiatives, such as one that gathers data collected by NASA, NOAA and Los Alamos satellites that are then processed by a machine learning model that detects variations in the Van Allen Belts to anticipate possible occurrences.
This system is still under development, but it already allows foreseeing the arrival of particles 2 days in advance. And the expectation is that the refinement of this technology will allow scientists to be able to predict the arrival of particles with more time – which, in turn, will allow operators to shut down the equipment or make the necessary adjustments so that they do not suffer damage.
Another function of satellites is to assist in the security of countries and territories, and if one nation decides to get into trouble with another and cause real chaos to the enemy, just detonate a nuclear bomb in low orbit and destroy its satellites – and those of places that have nothing to do with the lambuja conflict! According to Herbert, this type of attack was banned in the 1960s, but who guarantees that some crazy leader will not perpetrate something like that?
One way to limit the risk of having an entire fleet of satellites ruined would be to move the equipment to safe orbits and dissipate the radiation released by the (hypothetical) explosion. The first problem could be solved by equipping the devices with engines powered by solid fuel capable of being activated and deactivated when necessary – a technology that, by the way, is already being tested. With respect to radiation, an electron accelerator, a device that works as an antenna that emits electromagnetic waves, could be used to dissipate radioactive particles.