Is it time to develop a crashing satellite defense system for the whole Earth?
First it was Skylab. Pieces the size of a kitchen range and weighing several hundred pounds were expected to make it intact to the ground. But where? We never really found out. Now a multi-ton satellite of the German Space Agency has crashed. It came down over the weekend somewhere, with chunks likely as big as a refrigerator and weighing a ton making it to the ground. But it’s not clear where it crashed. Two major cites in China, both with 1 million plus populations, were in the danger zone but fortunately, both were spared.
We have movies like Enemy of the State in which satellite surveillance can track an individual everywhere they go and even pan around to stare in their face or read the wristwatch on their arm. But reality is obviously vastly more crude than Hollywood movies suggest. With more and more space junk decaying in orbit and crashing to the Earth, sooner or later there is going to be a collision where significant numbers of human beings are injured and killed. And we can’t predict where that calamity will occur till after the fact.
I understand the degree to which chaos theory influences the final trajectory of a falling satellite. If we ever get to the point where we can accurately predict ground zero, it may take decades. It’s possible we will never reach that point. The exact decay trajectory may prove to be stochastic. If our rocket science, physics, math and Earth sciences mavens want to explain the prediction difficulties in answering, feel free.
But given that we can’t predict where to play heads up, isn’t it time we develop a tracking and defense system capable of blowing these things up while they are high enough in orbit that the debris will just burn up on reentry? It might prove handy to defend against comets and asteroids as well.