China aids in cutting down space debris

China aids in cutting down space debris

BEIJING - China has made remarkable progress in controlling and reducing the impact of space debris on exploration and will strengthen cooperation with other nations, according to a senior official.

"China has allocated a considerable amount of resources in research and development for the detection, protection and mitigation of space debris," said Xu Dazhe, head of the China National Space Administration. "A surveillance and early warning system has taken shape, beginning to provide technical support to our manned space exploration and satellite operation."

While addressing the 32nd Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee Plenary Meeting that opened in Beijing on Monday, Xu said cutting-edge technologies were adopted to prevent Long March rocket parts from exploding in space after they sent satellites or spacecraft into orbit, thus avoiding generating new debris.

The committee is an international governmental forum founded in 1993 for the worldwide coordination of activities related to man-made and natural debris in space.

China also directed several retired satellites from their orbit to prevent possible collision and make way for other assets, according to Xu.

Space debris includes everything from spent rocket stages and old satellites to fragments from disintegration, erosion and collisions. Some of that debris may collide with operational spacecraft.

As of September last year, more than 500,000 pieces of debris were tracked as they orbited the Earth. They travel up to 28,000 km/h, fast enough for a relatively small piece of debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft, according to NASA.

There are also millions of pieces so small they can't be tracked, it added.

A 1-cm object moving with a relative speed of 17,000 km/h would deliver as much energy as a small hand grenade, experts explained.

"Human exploration and use of outer space during the past decades have resulted in a large amount of debris. The increase of debris poses a serious threat to space activities, space assets and the space environment. This issue can only be resolved through the joint efforts of all spacefaring countries," said Ma Xinmin from the Foreign Ministry's Department of Treaty and Law.

"China requires its domestic institutions to conduct space activities in accordance with the work plan of the IADC and urges the Chinese space agency and enterprises to abide by its own guidelines on mitigation of space waste."

Space debris is a serious issue that demands multinational participation and collaboration, said Charles Philip Brinkman with the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Phil Herridge, a scientist at UK-based Space Insight and deputy chair of the IADC's Measurements Working Group, said: "The major technical issue that lies in front of us is ... how can we remove debris without creating more, new ones. We must remove those objects while keeping them intact."

The National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have observed space waste for a long time, according to Xu Jing, editor of the Space International magazine.

"The US is the only nation that has the capability of using assets in outer space to monitor debris and is actually doing so, while China now relies on ground observation and has no specific instruments in space that can monitor or mitigate debris," she said.

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