About this Research Topic
Space as we know it is changing. Space activities are entering a defining moment, with a dramatic increase of launch rates and the continuous appearance of new actors and entrepreneurs. The overcrowding of Earth orbit with increasingly smaller spacecraft and the advent of the large constellations in Low Earth Orbit is calling for a new paradigm for space activities based on Space Traffic Management (STM).
The challenges posed by the STM are numerous and strongly interconnected.
An accurate modeling of the new traffic and its consequences on the space environment are necessary to understand and evaluate the efficiency of the mitigation measures currently applied to safeguard the space environment and ensure a sustainable development of future space activities.
The establishment and improvement of the worldwide Space Surveillance and Tracking systems shall guarantee an accurate monitoring of the space traffic allowing for an effective collision avoidance service and detection of unforeseen in-orbit explosions and fragmentations. Fast efficient algorithms and software for this purpose shall be studied and implemented to account for the growth in the number of foreseeable events, also related to the increased sensibility of the tracking systems allowing the monitoring and cataloging of smaller debris.
Autonomous navigation techniques shall be studied and developed to lower the burden on ground segments and to minimize human interaction in the management of space systems.
New technologies in the fields of on-orbit servicing and refueling shall be developed and applied to increase the lifetime of spacecraft, thus minimizing the need for further launches, and reducing the number of failed uncontrolled satellites. In case of failures, active removal of non-operational spacecraft from orbit shall be routinely implemented as commercial services.
Technical, operational and economic challenges are present here as well.
From one side, all the above points are prone to foster significant business opportunities in the space economy. On the other one, they also rise important questions and needs in the framework of space policy, rules and regulations. To this aim quantitatively assessing the impact of a space mission onto the active spacecraft environment and measuring the overall capacity of the space environment is fundamental to measure the effectiveness of any implemented and proposed mitigation strategy.
A significant international cooperation and coordination would certainly be required and would prove beneficial in the management of an intrinsically global issue such as space.
We must act quickly and responsibly. The exploitation of the space resources for the future generations will depend crucially on how we manage them in the coming years.
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Keywords: Space traffic management, low earth orbit, space traffic, sustainable space development, space resources, space commercial services
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