[Answered] Discuss hazards and risks associated with space debris. Analyse the significance of Project NETRA launched by ISRO.

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Concerns related to space debris. ISRO’s NETRA and it’s significance. Conclusion. Way forward.

The emerging problem of floating space junk is becoming more and more evident and bothersome. A report in 2011 by the National Research Council (NRC) warned NASA that the amount of space debris orbiting the Earth was at critical level. Any impact between two objects of sizeable mass can produce shrapnel debris from the force of collision. Each piece of shrapnel has the potential to cause further damage, creating even more space debris. The space debris problem is a multi-faceted problem, one that has technological, legal, financial, political, etc. issues that must all be addressed in any long-lasting solution.

Concerns related to space debris:

The testing of missile defence systems is already posing a danger to people and spacecraft by its production of debris.

  1. Due to the very high speed in low orbit of about 10 km/sec, space debris can damage satellites and spacecraft.
  2. Damage to satellites can seriously hinder the communication and other satellite services like weather forecasting.
  3. When debris in LEO returns to the Earth, it poses a lethal danger to people and to property.
  4. It may hinder future launch of satellites by threat or damaging launched satellites.
  5. Pieces of junk in orbit can and do get caught up in our planet’s atmosphere, just as meteoroids do.
  6. If there will be hundreds of interceptors in low earth orbit, the dangers would be immense, because the interceptors themselves would collide with already existing debris, as well as producing debris themselves.
  7. With a large enough collision the amount of cascading debris could be enough to render low Earth orbit essentially unusable.
  8. Even a speck of paint or fragment floating towards their spacecraft can disable on board electronics and cripples the satellite and many services that run on it.

ISRO’S Project NETRA and it’s significance:

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has commenced Project NETRA or Network for space object Tracking and Analysis, which aims to safeguard the country’s Low-Earth Orbit satellites from space debris.

  1. NETRA is a network of observational tools like telescopes and radars, which will be connected to a data processing units and a control centre. The system will improve India’s space situational awareness.
  2. Space debris such as inactive satellites, pieces of orbiting objects and near-earth asteroids can be hazardous to satellites. The NETRA would prevent danger from such space debris.
  3. NETRA will initially focus on satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (defined as an altitude ranging from 160 to 2,000 km above Earth), but will aim to one day scan debris in Geostationary Orbit, 36,000 km in space, which would enhance ISRO’s capabilities. With this the ISRO, which has placed satellites to track the earth from above, will also start training its eyes on space from earth.
  4. ISRO currently depends on NORAD-North American Aerospace Defense Command-to detect potential threats to its satellites in space. NETRA will remove ISRO’s dependence on NORAD and allow it to become self-dependent.
  5. It will give India its own capability in space situational awareness (SSA) like the other space powers which is used to predict threats from debris to Indian satellites.
  6. The SSA also has a military quotient to it and adds a new ring to the country’s overall security, as space and defence experts read it. It will serve as an unstated warning against missile or space attack for the country.

The space debris problem is an issue that needs a worldwide cooperation to solve it. India, as a responsible space power, and as a part of a national capability, deployed NETRA that would help in reducing threat from space debris. This is a vital requirement for protecting our space assets and would act as a force multiplier. Apart from radars and telescopes, India should also think of deploying satellites that track other satellites, as the U.S. and other space powers had done.

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