Around two-thirds of the satellites orbiting Earth are dead, posing a “very big danger” to the planet, European space ministers have heard.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is proposing a mission to tackle the growing problem of space debris, its director-general said.
Speaking at the agency’s ministerial council in Seville, Spain, Johann-Dietrich Worner said that of almost 4 500 satellites in orbit, only 1 500 are active.
He also spoke about a mission to detect and prevent hazards posed by meteorites, saying the human race does not want to be wiped out in the same manner as dinosaurs.
Worner also identified solar flares as a potential danger to Earth.
He said: “We have a situation of meteorites – the dinosaurs died out because of a meteorite, most probably. We don’t want to be dying out because of a meteorite, and therefore we should have a look to that. And to make two things — to have observations to have early pre-warning, but at the same time … to really fight against it, to have what I call ‘playing billiards in space’, and together with the Americans, we are proposing a mission in that.
“And then we have the space debris, especially from upper stages, from adapters, from old satellites. We have about something like 4 500 satellites in orbit – only 1 500 are active, meaning 3 000 are dead. A very big danger.
“And therefore we are proposing a mission where we bring down some ESA-owned asset which is still flying around the Earth. And at the same time with the same mission we would also demonstrate that it’s possible to avoid future space debris by doing also some direct de-orbiting.”