Will picosatellites pollute space like in Wall-E? Why do we let amateurs kill Mother Earth? Send in the UN!
These are part of the overwhelming comments following my Discovery interview. I am amazed at the variety of space litter connondrums presented. I thought about writing a calm, well-measured response, but you know what? If the posters can rant, so can I!
Unlike them, however, I will rant with scientific backing on my side.
We see their lack of proportion. That there will be 'millions' of these things launched? InterOrbital should be so lucky. That what we're doing is equivalent to BP's promises that nothing will go wrong? Scale, folks, scale.
Picosatellites for research are not remotely close to the scale, size and volume of the risk and pollution from oil wells. It's not even up to the amount of toxins created building the computers that you use to post to Discovery.com. It's simple physics. 200 grams of anything in Low Earth Orbit is not going to do damage.
(In fact, that'd be a neat project. Design a 200 gram reentry capsule. It's kind of like those contests where you have to protect an egg from falling using only paper. It might be do-able, but it wouldn't be something you could sneak past InterOrbital.)
We see their ideology wars on picosatellite work. That the "US controlled Associated Press" (love that concept) won't whine because we're not China. That the UN should "walk in there and demand these activities be stopped." Hey, I'm all for giving the UN spacecraft. It can be like Thunderbirds!
Unfortunately, a third of the responses say we need to trust corporations, not government, a third say trust government, not corporations, and a third say trust no one. Kind of leaves us in a bind when trying to work things out, eh?
And best of all, we enjoy the irony. One stunning piece clearly believes things like GPS and satellite communication sprang forth, fully formed, from Zeus's head. "If anybody appreciates cell phones, GPS, Live TV, Direct TV, and all the other things real multi million dollar satellites brings us, somebody better put a stop to this."
Because, you know, there were never small satellites like the Sputniks and Explorers that paved the way for the commerce we're enjoying now. I just can't wrap my head around the perception that commercial space has a higher priority than research. I love the concept-- it means the New Space Age has arrived. But I can't understand it.
How about this? If anybody appreciates cell phones, GPS, Live TV, Direct TV, and all the other things real multi million dollar satellites bring us, hug a scientist. You wouldn't have your toys if we hadn't launched our toys to make it work.
In fact, I'd like to see someone design a few picosatellites to test some of the space-junk-clearing concepts. That's what they're for: exploring space. Exploration leads to discovery, which leads to solutions, which leads to a better world. QED.
Finally, and thankfully, some Discovery readers do have insight. As with most forums, the few who actually Read the Fine Article are in the minority. John S. in particular summarized it better than I. "People are squawking about more space junk floating around. Did they not read the article? At the proposed altitude the satellites will go for about 6 weeks and then burn up on reentry. So what is the problem?"
Here, I'll toss those filled with fear a bone. Space junk is a problem. Some good visualizations discussed by Tufte fans show-- accurately-- that it's a real concern. The recent Galaxy 15 incident is only the most recent collision. But here's the key: if you want to accept the opinion of we scientists who are warning about space junk, you also have to accept us when we deem picosatellites are not a problem. In fact, they just may lead us to a solution.
Details on ProjectCalliope ('Music from Space', Launching Spring 2011) every Tuesday here at The Satellite Diaries , Science every Friday at the Daytime Astronomer
Enough With The Space Junk Mania!