Missile launches are a bigger problem than everyone thinks

(ORDO NEWS) — More than 60% of launches in 2020 resulted in one or more parts of the rocket making an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere. Fortunately, no one was hurt by the debris, but with the expected increase in launches, the possibility of casualties increases.

It usually takes several stages to get a payload into orbit. In most cases, everything goes well, with individual stages either burning up in the atmosphere or falling away from land.

But in 2020 alone, 60% of low-Earth orbit launches ended up with at least one significant portion of a rocket left in an uncontrolled orbit.

This poses a risk to life and property. Although to date there have been no serious consequences from uncontrolled falls of space debris, it is not certain that this will happen in the future.

Many companies are planning to launch their constellations of communications satellites, and rocket launches are expected to skyrocket over the next decade.

Some space agencies require no more than 1 in 10,000 risk of harm to people or property from uncontrolled falling debris on any launch. But some scientists believe that this is not enough.

This ratio may be acceptable for a limited number of launches each year, but it ignores the cumulative effect of thousands of launches occurring year after year.

The researchers analyzed the current orbits of 600 known pieces of space debris. They found that most of them are in geostationary orbits, which means that the risk of re-entry is concentrated near the equator.

People living near the equator are at much higher risk than those living at high latitudes. But the countries that typically make these launches are located far from the equator, so they are effectively shifting the risk of debris falling onto countries that weren’t even involved in the launches.

Scientists have calculated that the risk of accidents due to uncontrolled fall of space debris in the coming decades is about 10-20%.

Experts are calling for more honest and consistent risk assessment and more uniform application of rules by the community to properly address spaceflight.

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