That space junk you left in-orbit and forgot about a few decades ago might just come back to haunt you...
Space debris tracking specialists LeoLabs warned this week on Twitter that an old space telescope launched in 1983 and a US payload launched in 1967 are likely to pass within just 15-30m of each other 500+ miles above the city of Pittsburgh. What's significant is the size of that decommissioned space telescope - the Infrared Astronomical Satellite 'IRAS' (which helped astronomers discover six new comets and four asteroids) had a launch mass of over 1,000kg.
Whether this particular 'crash' occurs on January 29th or not, the likelihood of such debris-creating collisions is certain to increase as low Earth orbit (LEO) becomes increasingly crowded. You can read about mega-constellations and collision avoidance in our earlier post here.
In that article we mentioned Altius Space Machines whose magnetic grappling plates will feature on OneWeb's satellites as part of their commitment to 'Responsible Space'. As a result at OneWeb Satellites high-volume satellite manufacturing facility, Altius' DogTags™ grappling fixtures are being added to the company's spacecraft in order that a range of capture techniques will be available, opening up the prospect of in-orbit servicing and end-of-life disposal operations that can be undertaken by other 'tug' spacecraft that dock to OneWeb's.
Altius already have competition in this emerging segment of the New Space industry however - you can hear from Charity Weeden - Vice President of Global Space Policy at Tokyo-based Astroscale - talking about the company's upcoming End-of-Life Service by Astroscale or 'ELSA-d' mission in Loren Grush's excellent explainer video for The Verge below:
Astroscale's concept was also covered by BBC News a few weeks ago where founder and CEO Nobu Okada spoke about the very real problems presented by space debris. The company have raised around $140m of venture capital funding to date and the team count is already north of 100 employees (or 'Space Sweepers' as they call them) spread across the UK, US, Singapore and Japan.
You can read more about the problems of space debris and Astroscale's solutions on their website.