Satellite moved to die a quicker death, reduce space junk

Satellite burns fuel, repositioned to burn up quicker

sstl dmc-2
A company operating an environmental monitoring satellite says it has moved one of its spacecraft into a position closer to earth and depleted its propellant with the idea that it will not add to the space junk problem.

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) said it successfully repositioned its UK-DMC-1 spacecraft which is reaching the end of its operational life.  UK-DMC-1's moves were designed to deplete the remaining butane from the propellant tanks which ensures that there are no on-board pressure sources which could cause the spacecraft to break-up and increase the space debris population. These moves have also brought the satellite closer to Earth, and thereby reduced the time until atmospheric re-entry by more than 100 years reducing the probability of orbital collisions in the future, the company stated. 

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UK-DMC-1, launched in 2003, was part of the Disaster Monitoring Constellation-supported by SSTL for the British and Chinese,  Algerian, Nigerian and Turkish governments --  and carries what the firm called a first generation medium resolution 32m Ground Sample Distance multi-spectral imager. When launched, the 89kg spacecraft carried a small butane propulsion system which contained 2.35kg of propellant, the primary function of which was to perform orbit maintenance and constellation management. When the spacecraft was no longer required to be maintained in the constellation, all of the remaining propellant was then used to perform the orbit lowering maneuvers, the company stated.

Any reduction in space junk would be a help as the problems is growing.  Debris from China the US and former Soviet Union spacecraft make up majority of junk floating in space. Approximately 19,000 objects larger than 10 cm are known to exist, NASA stated.

NASA' s Orbital Debris Program Office recently said that while over 4,700 space missions have taken place worldwide since the 1960s, 10 missions account for one-third of all cataloged objects currently in Earth orbit and of that, six of these 10 debris producing events occurred within the past 10 years. Three years after the Chinese government blew one of its satellites in space with a missile the debris from that explosion continues to grow. 

NASA also recently noted that the number of debris officially cataloged from the 2007 Chinese the Fengyun-1C spacecraft anti-satellite test has now surpassed 3000. By mid-September 2010, the tally had reached 3037, of which 97% remained in Earth orbit, posing distinct hazards to hundreds of operational satellites, the office stated.

The debris from the Fengyun-1C spacecraft represents 22% of all cataloged objects passing through low Earth orbit or below 2000 km.

In September the Air Force sent up its Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite to monitor space junk.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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