MIT and ESA proposed to create a safety rating of satellites

As aerospace companies promise to flood the earth’s orbit thousands of new satellites in the next decade, industry experts say it’s time to classify these statements according to their aspirations to keep the space safe and clean. The rating system will help companies to stay honest and ensure that the orbit of the Earth was open for business and free from excessive debris, garbage and satellites.

It’s time to deal with debris in orbit

Currently, according to the European space Agency, in orbit is about 2,000 active satellites, and the agencies are tracking more than 22,000 pieces. But companies such as SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon suggested adding a giant new constellation of satellites hundreds or thousands of pieces. As soon as the number of satellites in Earth orbit increases, so does the risk of collision of these vehicles. The collision can generate hundreds of debris, threatening other functioning satellites.

Satellite operators can take certain steps in the creation and launch of the spacecraft to reduce the probability of collisions. Changes in the design of the satellite, its position above the Ground or in terms of its flight can affect his chances of threat to other space ships and creating unnecessary debris in orbit.

Space Sustainability Rating

And here, two groups of experts from MIT and ESA plan to create an independent process evaluation of the decisions taken by the operators to create their constellations. The concept of Space Sustainability Rating (SSR, “space rating stability”) should provide an additional level of liability for companies that send transportation to space. “It essentially encourages companies to compete with each other for good behavior, for the creation of reputation,” says Daniel wood, associate Professor of media arts and Sciences at MIT and leader of the MIT team.

There are already regulations designed to maintain the purity of the Earth’s orbit. Government agencies in the United States that govern the launches, like the FCC, considering how Sputnik might affect the space environment, before letting it fly. In the 1990-ies the U.S. government has developed guidelines and methods for operators to follow to reduce the risk of space debris. The UN has adopted standards similar to the U.S., and other countries have developed their own leadership.

But at the world economic forum suggested that there must be some parallel system for monitoring space companies, management industry and requires voluntary action. Therefore for the development of SSR chose MIT and ESA. The team has not yet decided on the details of the rating, but will spend the next few years learning the basics.

One of the most important aspects of the rating is the company’s compliance with current standards. “One of the questions that we ask will be as follows: observe whether the operator certain rules and guidelines?”, wood says. Most of these standards revolves around the life of the satellite, requiring operators to eventually withdraw its satellites from orbit. U.S. demand for safe disposal of satellites after 25 years. This means either the approach of the satellite to the Ground, where he is attracted under the action of gravity and burns up in the atmosphere, or the output of a satellite in “orbit-graveyard” — the region of space which does not use any active satellites.

SSR will consider how the company gets rid of its satellites and will take into account all the physical characteristics of the spacecraft, which can make the vehicle more dangerous. This is a concept that Moriba JHA, one of the partners of the MIT team calls the “space after” — like the concept of the carbon footprint on the Earth. “This is a burden that any object — living or dead — places on the security and stability of everything else in the space,” says JHA.

The space trail will consider, for example, the orbit of the satellite. “Some of the orbit is extremely empty, nothing around,” says JHA. “Some contain a lot of other objects in the same space highway”. Orbit is 40 000 kilometers above the equator — the geostationary belt is a very popular destination for communications satellites; and orbit at a height of 400-900 kilometers also filled with Earth observation satellites. Satellite into one of these relatively crowded orbits will have a larger area footprint than the relatively empty satellite into orbit.

The maneuverability of the spacecraft is also important: does it have engines that will allow to avoid collisions? Can he quickly get out of the way? According to JHA, the answers to these questions will be considered in the area calculation. How to build a satellite, it will also be taken into consideration. If it is designed to withstand extreme temperatures and vibration, it is less likely to fall apart and turn into trash.

Teams of MIT and ESA will have to figure out how much weight to give each of these characteristics of the satellite. To get all the necessary information, the team plan to use public data, which the company’s share in the license applications for their products. These include, for example, the orbit of the satellite, and plans for disposal. Wood says that operators have to choose between the best rating and the ability to hide some information.

Once the assessment system is adopted, the teams will propose an algorithm that estimates how the satellite or constellation may affect other vehicles in space. Perhaps when all this is complete, observe these indicators will be entrusted to another organization.

Companies and operators will be able to improve your image, increasing your SSR. It will also be useful for companies that insure their ships — SSR can be a good guide for the assessment of liability satellite.

But the main goal is to save the Earth’s orbit in working condition. If the space is too much garbage, some orbits may become unusable. Which means we in theory could lose certain features that depend on satellites, like satellite television and communication, Earth observation and space research. This is one of the major reasons why JHA and wood working on SSR — it provides another way of protection space.

“Near-earth space requires the protection of the environment,” says JHA. “It’s not so much a problem as climate change, but global asset that can suffer from the tragedy if we do nothing”.