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Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A Russian study finds space debris could set off wars on Earth

Space does have military uses - communications, intelligence gathering, plain old weather prediction - and military across the world have invested in their own spacecraft (take the US Air Force's secretive X37-B mini-shuttle, for example). It's also true that space weapons have been developed: We've had Reagan's Star Wars project, Soviet Russia's cannon toting Almaz space station and China's A-SAT missiles. But they've never been fired in anger*.

Above: An X37-B being fuelled. Or cleaned. Your guess is as good as mine.

Now it seems that may not matter: A study from the Russian Academy of Sciences suggests that it might not need any weapons in space - or even any aggression - for a conflict to begin there: An ill timed bit of space debris and the fear of an attack in space could start a conflict, say the paper's authors, (Vitaly Adushkin, Stanislav Veniaminov, Stanislav Kozlov and Mikhail Silniko). 

Recent figures from NASA indicate that there are more than 500,000 pieces of space junk currently being tracked in orbit, travelling at speeds up to 28,160 km/h (17,500 mph). If a satellite (or, far worse, a manned vessel) were to be destroyed by space debris then the explosion couldn't easily be told apart from a military attack. "The owner of the impacted and destroyed satellite can hardly quickly determine the real cause of the accident," the paper's authors said.

Such events have already happened, and a similar accident happening to a military satellite might be mistaken for the early moves in an attack. As a result of an increasing general worry about space pollution, several space agencies are investigating ways of cleaning up space junk.....

 Above: Scientific American gives a quick run-down on a Japanese space debris net

......but this is the first time it's been seriously suggested that a debris hit might cause a more far reaching disaster. 
I'd love to dismiss the idea as pure hokum, and it would undoubtedly need two nations that were already in a tense situation, but even if it's a relatively unlikely scenario it's one more reason to take space pollution seriously....

*As far as we now. Just sayin... 

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