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  • Satellite Evolution Group

The Growing Risk of Space Travel: Shielding Astronauts from Life-Threatening Debris

The number of human-made objects orbiting the Earth has been on a consistent upward trajectory over the past decades, which has resulted in an enhanced risk to astronauts' safety. To address this issue, Share My Space is collaborating with former astronaut Michel Tognini to heighten public awareness and provide an effective Space Situational Awareness (SSA) solution.

There is one chance out of eight that the International Space Station (ISS) will be lost in the upcoming decade due to a collision with debris. With 13 astronauts already scheduled to be part of the two future expeditions, the threats presented by space debris deserve all the attention.

A single collision with debris could cause catastrophic damage, thereby limiting the ability of astronauts to conduct research and explore space. In Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), even small debris measuring two centimetres pose a pressing risk as they can travel at speeds of up to 28,000 km/h. There is a one-in-sixty chance that a crew member could lose their life as a result of such an impact.

Since 1999, the ISS has carried out more than 30 collision avoidance manoeuvres. Unfortunately, manoeuvring is not a reliable safety guarantee as revealed by the hole discovered on one of the station’s robotic arms following a collision with debris. Astronauts have also already faced immediate danger; after Russia’s anti-missile test in November 2021, the ISS crew had to take shelter on the Soyuz spacecraft due to probable collision with Cosmos 1408 fragments.

Michel Tognini is a former ESA and CNES astronaut; among his accomplishments can be found his two space missions aboard the US Space Shuttle Atlantis. He has received numerous honours for his contributions to the field of space exploration, including the Legion of Honour, the National Order of Merit, and the NASA Space Flight Medal.

Advisor to Share My Space, since 2022, for Michel Tognini, “The current situation is not sustainable. With an increasing number of debris cluttering up the orbits, the risk of a lethal collision is no longer theoretical. It is clear that we need to take immediate and decisive action to address this urgent matter and ensure the safety of all those who venture into space”.

Companies in the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) industry are playing a critical role in tackling this growing issue. Share My Space offers value-added services to safeguard critical assets in space and, more widely, protect humans from space hazards. By optically tracking orbital space objects, the newspace company assists key stakeholders, like space agencies, in mitigating debris-generated risks.

With the prospect of space tourism and commercial space stations on the horizon of 2030, these questions are becoming increasingly pressing. To this effect, Share My Space is committed to supporting human spaceflight safety through these four initiatives:

  1. Detect smaller objects, down to 2 cm in size in LEO.

  2. Develop space surveillance and tracking capabilities to support crewed Lunar and Martian missions.

  3. Refine casualty risk models for astronauts to better assess and manage these risks.

  4. Renew pledge to the Paris Peace Forum’s Net Zero Space initiative.


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