Home Medical Factors Facing Pilots Aviation Stories Of Interest FAA Exam Aviation News Maintenance and Aircraft Mechanics General Aviation Helicopters
Aviation History Legal Issues In Aviation Links To Other Sites Editorials Hot Air Balloon Aviation Training Handbooks Read Online Upcoming Events Editorials


The Movie Gravity Reveals Real Concerns Of Space Debris

November 4, 2013 - The movie Gravity which hit the box-office a month from today is a science fiction thriller that continues to receive great reviews. The plot focuses on a medical engineer and an astronaut that work together to survive after being struck by orbital space debris that leaves them adrift in space. Although the movie is fiction it portrays events that are realistic in nature. 

Through innovation and technology development, space is more accessible than ever before. However, the last 50 years of space activities has led to thousands of defunct satellites and other debris left behind to orbit the Earth. 

The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) Space Group facilitated an international conference on space debris in July 2013 in which they highlighted the urgent need to mitigate the risk of space debris. 

Space debris encompasses both natural (meteoroid) and artificial (man-made) particles. Meteoroids are in orbit about the sun, while most artificial debris is in orbit about the Earth. Hence, the latter is more commonly referred to as orbital debris. 

There are currently two regions in space where debris is becoming an issue, Low Earth Orbit which extends 2,000km (1,242 miles) above the Earth’s surface and Geostationary Orbit which is some 35,786km above the Equator. 


Some 20,000 objects larger than a mobile phone are currently tracked. But there are estimated to be over half a million objects bigger than a pound coin and smaller than a mobile phone and over 50 million objects smaller than a pound coin. 

None of which can be tracked with current technology. These small objects could be lethal because most are travelling at more than 8km/s (about 18,000 mph) at which speed one gram of debris packs a punch equivalent to 8 grams of TNT. 

Even if there were no more new launches, the debris amount will still grow due to collisions between objects already in orbit, this phenomenon is known as the Kessler syndrome. Because of this, debris population must be reduced. One solution that achieves ‘zero growth’ is to remove about ten large objects from orbit every year.



The possibility of a collision such as that shown in the movie Gravity is real, although large objects are usually tracked with sufficient precision to enable the potential ‘target’ to take evasive action. The Department of Defense (DoD) maintains a highly accurate satellite catalog on objects in Earth orbit that are larger than a softball. DoD’s Space Surveillance Network tracks discrete objects as small as 2 inches (5 centimeters) in diameter in low Earth orbit and about 1 yard (1 meter) in geosynchronous orbit. 

A large number of the world’s spacecraft operators are members of the Space Data Association which was specifically set up to reduce the risk of collisions with space debris in earths orbit. At the present time operators are protecting operational spacecraft using avoidance maneuvers. NASA reports that it takes the threat of collisions with space debris seriously and has a long-standing set of guidelines on how to deal with each potential collision threat. These guidelines, part of a larger body of decision-making aids known as flight rules, specify when the expected proximity of a piece of debris increases the probability of a collision enough that evasive action or other precautions to ensure the safety of the crew are needed. 

NASA has a set of long-standing guidelines that are used to assess whether the threat of such a close pass is sufficient to warrant evasive action or other precautions to ensure the safety of the crew. These guidelines essentially draw an imaginary box, known as the “pizza box" because of its flat, rectangular shape, around the space vehicle. This box is about a mile deep by 30 miles across by 30 miles long (1.5 x 50 x 50 kilometers), with the vehicle in the center. When predictions indicate that the debris will pass close enough for concern and the quality of the tracking data is deemed sufficiently accurate, Mission Control centers in Houston and Moscow work together to develop a prudent course of action. 

The United Nations is promoting transparency and confidence building measures to remove suspicion about motives for tracking and removal of debris. Such measures could include General Assembly Resolutions, Treaties, Codes of Conduct and Forums to share information. Lessons learned from the evolution and deployment of the world’s air traffic control systems could also be applied to the creation of a space traffic control environment using transponders on spacecraft and mandatory reporting of maneuvers in orbit. In the longer term, concepts are being developed to remove rocket bodies and defunct spacecraft using devices such as harpoons, grappling mechanisms, and nets.

Other News Stories (For the latest news please checkout our home page)
blog comments powered by Disqus  
Home Aviation News Aviation Stories Of Interest FAA Exam Upcoming Events Links To Other Sites General Aviation Helicopters Medical Factors Facing Pilots
Maintenance and Aircraft Mechanics Hot Air Balloon Aviation Training Handbooks Read Online Aviation History Legal Issues In Aviation Sea Planes Editorials
 ©AvStop Online Magazine                                                                 Contact Us                                                  Return To News                                          Bookmark and Share  

AvStop Aviation News and Resource Online Magazine