Its Raining … China.

Although the Chinese Space Agency successfully launched the Yutu rover to the Moon this month there was some, er, fallout from the launch.

http://www.cinaoggi.it/images/stories/attualita/2011/aprile/space-debris/space-debris-001.jpg

A few pieces of the launch craft fell back, and onto, the country.  The US and other space launching countries tend to build these facilities near the coast so that the debris fall into the ocean, away from populated areas.

The Chinese, however, decided to build their launch facilities far inland (most probably due to military paranoia about prying eyes and ears).

Sometimes, the pieces falling back to Earth injure or kill people.  In one instance about 50 people died as a result of a failed launch.

Additionally, China is adding to our already staggering amount of space junk.  Although the US and the former Soviet Union are to blame for most of the junk orbiting the planet, China seems to be playing catch-up.  With China, India and other countries planning space launches along with all the commercial space ventures just starting, we need to figure out how to deal with the debris.

Otherwise, the movie Gravity is going to become a reality.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

Bad New For Space Travelers.

I have written before about the Air Force’s program to track all the vast amount of space debris in orbit about our Planet.  The radar system that tracks thousands of objects orbiting Earth has been slated for shutdown due to budget cuts.

The ground-based network known as the “Space Fence” may cease to operate in October.

The shutdown is being blamed on the sequestration cuts and on a review conducted by the Pentagon to find areas of potential savings.  Although it doesn’t seem like much, the across the board cuts are being felt everywhere.  My personal disappointment was the cancellation of the JPL open house this year.

File:NAVSPASUR Fence 2001.jpg

However, the news isn’t all that bad.  The current space fence is using equipment from the 1960’s to track all the orbiting junk.  The Air Force is waiting to award a contract to build an updated version of the space fence system, but this plan too is been held up by budgetary problems.

So what exactly is the current system tracking?  According to NASA:  “More than 21,000 orbital debris larger than 10 cm are known to exist. The estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 cm in diameter is approximately 500,000. The number of particles smaller than 1 cm exceeds 100 million.”

It would be bad day in orbit if you accidentally ran into some of this debris.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

Space Junk Menace

This week scientists, engineers and space-law experts are gathering in Darmstadt, Germany for the The 6th European Conference on Space Debris.  Attendees will discuss the growing problem of space debris.  On the table are proposals to curb the accumulation of new junk in orbit.  And trust me, there is a lot of junk up there.

As I have discussed on this blog earlier, there are more than 170 million pieces of space junk currently orbiting Earth.

According to the conference’s website, since 1957, more than 4,900 space launches have led to an on-orbit population today of more than 22,000 trackable objects, with sizes larger than 10 cm.

Fusée V2.jpg

In fact the very first man-made object to cross the Kármán line and hence first spaceflight, was done by the Wehrmacht in 1944 when a V2 rocket traveled 176 kilometres (109 mi) into low earth orbit (and, as we know, the test was not for scientific purposes).  Since then we have only been putting up more debris.

This is one post where I actually do get to talk about astronomy and law together.  As I have noted, some of the junk floating out there is identifiable, so the question still remains:  If your junk hits my satellite do I get to sue you for the cost of the satellite and the cost of the cleanup?

Intriguing questions.  Space, according to treaty, is supposed to be for international use and a political “free” zone.  However, with the fast approaching advent of commercial space-flight, these questions are going to come to a head when a manned commercial enterprise is damaged by someones space junk.  Ohhhh, the court case that will be.  I am fairly certain that this is a “when it happens” question, not an “if it happens” question.

Hang on, the ride could be bumpy.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +

Norman