An orbit in peril: The price of progress

by Mohan Sundararajan

When I wrote on the problem posed by space debris four years ago (Gyan Vitaranam Nov 15- Dec 14, 2015), big corporations had not announced their specific plans to put tens of thousands of small communication satellites into the low earth orbit for providing global Internet services. Today, with the era of mega-constellations of satellites becoming a reality, their impact calls for a closer look at the danger they pose to the very existence of the orbit in which they would function.

When I interviewed Arthur Clarke in 1972, the famous writer did not envisage the near-earth orbit (orbits up to altitudes from about 200 km to 2000 km), as a limited resource in ever-increasing demand. It is now known that at that time there were only about 2000 human-made objects in the lower orbits, since called debris, consisting of small rocket pieces and parts of solar panels, satellite parts and even nuts and bolts, many of which would circle the earth for decades, as they are....

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