Satellites that are no longer functional continue to orbit Earth, taking up space in space. Now the European Space Agency (ESA) says that these dead satellites pose a “big danger” and have proposed to bring their own defunct assets down.
According to TechCentral, the head of the space agency highlighted these concerns at the agency’s ministerial council in Seville, Spain. Johann-Dietrich Worner said that of almost 4 500 satellites in orbit, only 1 500 are active.
The agency is concerned that this large number of dead satellites could be a threat to others that are still active and could even threaten the International Space Station should any of them collide with it.
“And therefore we are proposing a mission where we bring down some ESA-owned asset which is still flying around the Earth. And at the same time with the same mission we would also demonstrate that it’s possible to avoid future space debris by doing also some direct de-orbiting,” he said.
In a statement from 2017, he said that one way the agency have proposed bringing down these assets has been through a magnetic tug.
ESA said that the magnetic tug would influence the satellites using their ‘magnetorquers’: reliable electromagnets already carried to adjust orientation using Earth’s magnetic field.
“So the idea I’m investigating is to apply magnetic forces either to attract or repel the target satellite, to shift its orbit or de-orbit it entirely,” they said.
At the council, Worner also warned of meteorites and solar flares as possible space-related dangers to the planet.