Let’s talk about space debris and the Russia problem

2nd Dec 2021
Let’s talk about space debris and the Russia problem

Russia has always been at the forefront of space exploration and even during the times of the former Soviet Union has been miles ahead of anyone else in terms of space engineering, rocket development and general expertise. And yet, recently, it has done more harm to the space industry than any other country in history. And we really have to ask ourselves… why?

Most of what the world has achieved in space couldn’t have been done without the input from Russia. They have facilitated the transport of satellites into orbit, astronauts to the International Space Station and more famously, sent the first human into space.

So, it begs the question of why a country that has contributed so much to international space exploration would conduct such an act that would put even the International Space Station at risk by deliberately destroying a satellite and creating thousands of piece of space junk. Why?

Let’s keep in mind that two of Russia’s own cosmonauts are currently on board the ISS, so this dangerous action put their very own citizens at risk. The inhabitants of the space station had to move into emergency departure vehicles immediately after the destruction of the satellite as a precautionary measure in case any of the debris caused damage to the main body of the space station.

There is obviously a lot of speculation on why the Russians carried out this “test”, but what is very clear is that it was meant as a very public display. It was clearly not intended to be a secret. Since the time of the cold war there have been very intentional displays of power between Russia and USA and this most likely falls into that category. Except it just comes across as a bit reckless and, dare I say, amateur.

The real problem this creates is that it can turn space into a war zone at a time when the space industry is going through a hugely, life changing transition with private companies now transforming space at a rate that governments through history never could. And Russia are coming across as a petulent, jealous child, angered by the huge positive developments being made by the west whilst it dwells in its own space program barely changed since the 1960s.

If it is as simple as this then it has achieved nothing other than embarrassment for Russia. While other countries are placing satellites in their thousands into orbit – mostly by private enterprises – to improve earth observation, internet connectivity for remote parts of the world and space tourism or faster global travel, Russia are showing themselves to be a backward nation living well and truly in the past.

The world is connected now like never before and those private companies are setting out to make it even more so. With improved internet connectivity seamless trade, commerce and communications between nations and across huge land masses will undoubtedly grow significantly to the benefit of many. All funded by private individuals and not governments.

If we look at how the internet has created new supply chains and commercial enterprises ranging from the huge amount of subscription based services to the “last mile” delivery networks, we can clearly see what good internet connectivity can contribute to an economy. New space will make available this sort of economic growth in countries and regions that haven’t yet fully benefitted from the advent of the internet.

And let’s not forget about tackling climate change, which can only really be achieved by having the ability to monitor the various aspects of earth’s environment FROM SPACE.

There are also enterprises that are positively tackling the removal of space debris as a service. Which I would expect wouldn’t be done by blowing up satellites (and creating even more debris) but rather by their careful removal.

So, whilst the rest of the world are using this new space opportunity to bring about vast improvements to the lives of millions of Earth’s inhabitants, Russia appear simply to demonstrate they have a larger todger than everybody else.

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