Internet Connection Successful!
SpaceX Starlink works in Ukraine!
On February 28, 2022, a brief tweet stating a user had successfully linked to the internet grabbed the world’s attention. The Twitter message was uploaded by Ukrainian developer Oleg Kutkov. What's so special about this short tweet that it inspired and gave hope to people around the world?
In February, Russia attacked Ukraine and
destroyed its entire communications network. On short notice, the Ukrainian
government submitted a request for Starlink service, invented by the SpaceX
company of Elon Musk, stating that their country needed means of communication
to protect civilians and rescue injured people.
SpaceX's Starlink is a technological system that enables people anywhere to use the Internet by receiving signals between thousands of cube satellites orbiting the earth and small local antennas on the ground. With this system, one can connect to the Internet through Starlink service even in mountainous areas, deserts, and developing countries where it is difficult to establish a base station.
The time it took for Oleg Kutkov to connect to the Internet
Ten seconds! That’s all the time it took for Oleg Kutkov to hook up to the internet. Oleg Kutkov, who had purchased a Starlink satellite dish from an internet shopping mall a few months earlier and had been keeping it stowed away, connected his satellite dish outside the window as soon as he learned the news that Starlink would start service in his country, the Ukraine.
It is no exaggeration to state that it is owing to Starlink, a low-orbit satellite network, that the horrors of the Ukrainian war are conveyed to the world in real time through social media. The amazing development of personal satellite communications technology has made it possible for the whole world to communicate in real time even amidst an urban battlefield where every work of man is being reduced to rubble.
above photo is a Starlink radio wave receiving antenna. (Source: Starlink,
A shooting star embroidering the sky?
If you make a mistake, you may be in big trouble!
Yet as with all new technologies, light and dark coexist in the new technology called "Space Internet."
● In 2009 a black hunk of metal punched through the roof of a British house! Surprisingly, it turned out to be a fuel tank from Apollo 12, which was launched forty years earlier.
A Delta 2 projectile propellant tank landed
in Texas, USA in 1997 (Source: NASA)
● In 2011, a metal chunk weighing 2.5 tons hurtled out of the heavens in the neighborhood of Beijing! It was a fragment from the German space-borne X-ray telescope ROSAT that did not completely incinerate in earth's atmosphere but plummeted to earth near Beijing, China. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), it would have been a catastrophe if the wreckage of the satellite had impacted in urban Beijing at the speed of 480 km/hr. Luckily it was a near miss, splashing into the sea just offshore with a 7-minute orbital delay.
● In 2021, the core stage of the Chinese Long March-5B rocket, over 30 meters in length and weighing 18 tons, spun out of control and crashed to Earth! The wreckage, which held the world in bated breath, luckily plummeted into the waters southwest of India.
● On April 4, 2022, a huge metal ring 3m in diameter weighing 40kg fell into a village in India as they prepared a village feast! The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said the metal mass is believed to be debris from a Chinese Changjeong-3B launched on February 4 the previous year.
Tweet announcing that Chinese space debris fell on Indian village.
Burgeoning global market
for low-orbit satellites
The global low-orbit satellite market is accelerating. Big players in the corporate world include "Starlink" of SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, "Kuiper Systems," a subsidiary of Amazon, and "OneWeb," a British space internet company.
◇ US SpaceX plans to launch 11,943 satellites
Elon Musk (CEO of SpaceX and Tesla) leads the private space industry. The U.S. entrepreneur plans to launch 11,943 satellites weighing 227 kg into low-Earth orbit by 2027 to enable global Internet access. Starlink began launching satellites in 2018 and has placed about 2,000 satellites in orbit so far.
◇ US Amazon plans to launch 3,236 satellites
American company Amazon is pursuing Project Kuiper to provide global broadband intercommunication with 3,236 low orbit satellites by 2029. Amazon says it will bring internet coverage to areas where 95% of humanity lives.
◇ UK ‘OneWeb’ plans to launch 2,700 satellites
OneWeb is a space internet company founded in the UK in 2012 by Greg Wyler. In the first phase, about 700 satellites will provide communication services from 2022, and in the second phase, about 2,000 satellites will be added to consolidate a global communication network.
Dead satellites form a huge
orbiting fleet of space junk
The problem is that fragments of artificial satellites or satellites whose useful terms have expired become "space junk" cluttering the heavens above earth's atmosphere.
According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, a total of 12,554 satellites (including 1,290 not registered with the UN) have been launched into space since mankind launched the first satellite in 1957 until April 2022. Of these, only 8,569 satellites currently remain in orbit, while 3,983 satellites are known to have failed to reach orbit and plummeted back to terra firma or the sea.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), more than 95% of the objects orbiting Earth are useless space debris.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), there are about 36,500 pieces of space debris the size of a tennis ball orbiting the Earth, with a total weight of 9,600 tons. If the scope of garbage is expanded to objects as small as 1 mm, the number is estimated to be about 130 million.
Image of space debris floating around the Earth (Source: ESA)
All these flotsam and jetsam are orbiting our planet at speeds about 7.5 km/s. At seven times the speed of a bullet, that's a terrifying speed. Colliding with a 1cm-sized piece of aluminum hurtling at this speed is equivalent to hitting a car weighing 1.5t at 50km/h. A piece of metal the size of a fingernail becomes a weapon capable of destroying a satellite or space station.
The "Global Risk Report" released by the World Economic Forum in January 2022 warns that the increase in space debris is causing damage to orbital and space equipment hosting facilities for Earth's major systems, which could ignite already volatile international tensions.
Report source: https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-risks-report-2022
Global warming expected to increase
lifespan of space debris by 40 years
At the 7th "European Conference on Space Debris" hosted by the European Space Agency (ESA) in April 2021, a research team from the University of Southampton in the UK announced their finding that the hazards caused by space debris will increase due to global warming.
The process is as follows: Fragments orbiting the Earth gradually decelerate due to trace gases surrounding our planet, and slowly spiral in toward the Earth. As they reach Earth's thicker atmosphere, most of them are incinerated and vaporize due to the tremendous friction created as they pass through the lower layers of the air.
However, due to the increase in carbon dioxide caused by fuel combustion, the density of the upper layers of the atmosphere is lowered, and the attrition process of space junk takes longer. Already CO2 increase has reduced 21% of the atmospheric volume over 400 km since 2000, and it is predicted that if CO2 levels double by 2100, the volume of air above 400 km may be reduced by 80%.
This could increase the lifespan of orbiting space debris by up to 40 years and increase the amount of space debris by the appalling factor of about 50 times as much hazardous clutter in orbit!
Developing a vacuum cleaner may be the
key to avoiding a bolt out of the blue!
The first proposals for solving space debris began in the late 1970s. However, despite the urgent need for international cooperation due to the intertwined interests among nations, no adequate solution emerged. At the G7 summit in 2021, the issue of space debris was discussed on the agenda, but it was concluded without any compelling solution.
Still, there is hope. Humanity has always come up with new solutions to meet new challenges.
◇ "LiBDO" ᅳ NASA's space waste disposal technology
Recently, NASA announced that it is developing a new space waste disposal technology called “Lithium-ion Battery DeOrbiter”, or “LiBDO” for short.
“LiBDO” is a technology in which the built-in battery retires into a thermal runaway state and ignites when the lifespan of the spacecraft is over, and the energy released as it goes out with a flare is directed as "reverse thrust" to dislodge the satellite from orbit. That is, the spacecraft finds its own grave without external help. That's the theory of how it’s supposed to work.
◇ European Space Agency's (ESA) small space-cleaning satellite “RemoveDEBRIS”
The European Space Agency (ESA) has plans to collect space debris in earth orbit with nets or harpoons. In fact, the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and a British research team conducted an experiment to launch a small cleaning satellite in 2018 intended for this purpose but have not yet succeeded in capturing anything.
European Space Agency is working on a project to collect space debris orbiting Earth with nets or harpoons. (Source: ESA)
◇ Swiss startup ClearSpace's cleaning satellite
The private sector is stepping up to tackle the problem. In 2025, together with ClearSpace, a venture based at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, they plan to launch their own space debris collection mission. It is a method of incineration by launching a cleaning satellite to collect space debris and then plunge it into the Earth's atmosphere. These are viewed as undesirable homework assignments we’d rather put off—yet if we fail to fulfill them the cost may be enormous.
◇ Astroscale's magnetic arm cleaning satellite
Astroscale, a USA–Japan joint venture, hopes to attract space debris with magnetic arms and then transfer it to the atmosphere where it safely burns up. Last year, they succeeded for the first time ever in capturing a small satellite with a magnetic arm.
However, even if government agencies and private companies develop technologies to deorbit space waste, most of these technologies will be useless if, owing to global warming, they cannot incinerate the space waste before it strikes the earth and causes untold damage.
Whether handling space waste will become a new industry for humanity, or an imposingly difficult problem to solve, as in the movie Space Sweepers, we all are watching with ever-increasing interest.
* Link to European Space Agency presentation:
* If you wish to check the list of satellites launched into space from Earth so far, click the link.
Online Index of Objects Launched into Outer Space