Space junk or an Elon Musk satellite?

The unknowns remain about what it was that flew over the sky of Catalonia and the Valencian Community last Friday night.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
30 March 2024 Saturday 22:21
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Space junk or an Elon Musk satellite?

The unknowns remain about what it was that flew over the sky of Catalonia and the Valencian Community last Friday night. This Sunday, Germany assured that it was an Elon Musk satellite. “According to our Space Situation Awareness Center, this is the re-entry of a Starlink satellite,” as corroborated by the German air forces – the Luftwaffe – in a message on the X social network.

For its part, the CSIC, which had already ruled out on Saturday the initial hypothesis that it was a ballistic missile, pointed out that it was an object in orbit on Earth that disintegrated while passing through the atmosphere. The point of light – baptized as SPMN290324ART – was detected around 11:59 p.m. on Friday, emerging from France, traveling through Girona and Barcelona, ​​continuing towards the Balearic Islands and ending its journey south of the Valencian Community. The fireball was captured by cameras of several CSIC collaborating astronomers in Esparreguera, Benicàssim and Castelló de la Plana.

The most logical thing is, according to the CSIC, that this object is one of the millions of remains of rockets and satellites that move at high speed in low Earth orbit, and whose disposal is one of the great issues to be resolved in science and economics. from space. A piece of space junk

The phenomenon is quite common. It so happens that just three days ago, on March 28, another fireball was detected early in the morning in the sky over Occitania, captured by observers from Breda and Corbera de Llobregat.

Last year around this time, several observers in Sacramento, California, were mesmerized by streaks of light that suddenly illuminated the night sky, which were soon revealed to be flaming remains of communications equipment removed from the Space Station. International two years earlier, in 2020.

Low Earth Orbit (LTO) is a repository for space debris, most of it from pieces of spacecraft, tiny flecks of spacecraft paint, rocket parts, defunct satellites, or explosions from objects in orbit. that fly through space at high speed.

According to the latest data from the European Space Agency (ESA), there are about 35,150 cataloged waste around the Earth, with a total weight of 11,500 tons.

ESA sources indicate, however, that “not all space debris is tracked and catalogued.” Their estimates indicate that there are more than 131 million useless objects between 1 millimeter and 10 centimeters orbiting at an average of 36,000 kilometers per hour. Most space debris moves very fast and can reach speeds of almost 29,000 kilometers per hour, almost seven times faster than a bullet.

Due to the speed and volume of debris at OTB, experts agree that space junk poses a risk to the safety of people and property in space and on Earth.

In this sense, the professor at the University of Malaga José Luis Torres, who has coordinated a project on Space Economy with Professor Anelí Bongers, warns of these risks, in statements to Efe: “Any piece larger than one centimeter is potentially lethal in case of collision with operational satellites.”

By not having express regulation, beyond a non-binding international treaty of the United Nations, “space debris is an example of what is called market failure, because, since there are no property rights, no one manages it.” ", indicates Torres.

The atmosphere is a useful ally for removing space debris, since below 480 kilometers above the surface, most objects disintegrate naturally and burn up in less than 10 years. However, above 100 kilometers, where the atmosphere is thinner, the opposite occurs and debris is lost to space.