November29 , 2021

Urgent need for tighter space orbit regulations to avoid collisions: Claude Nicollier

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DUBAI. UAE. Prof Claude Nicollier is the first Swiss to travel into space and has logged more than 42 days in space over four missions. In 1999 Claude Nicollier became the first European to spacewalk during Discovery space shuttle mission. In an exclusive interview with Ritu Kant Ojha, Founder & Editor, Wiyld.com he talks about his journey and raises some important questions.

As an astronaut I had an opportunity on two occasions to visit the hubble space that I had gone for repair work. These were wonderful moments of my career as an astronaut because I had been an astrophysicist before, and then became an astronaut. And if as an astrophysicist you are asked to go and fix hubble, this is wonderful. The spacewalk itself that I did in December, 1999, was my last mission. We did some fixing on hubble, we exchanged the main computer, pointing cameras and gyroscopes and it was 8 hours outside. I must say the greatest moment in my career was when I could actually touch the hubble because hubble means so much for the astronomers and public also.

Beautiful pictures, the public loves them and astronomers love it also because it provides so much science about far-away objects like galaxies and clusters of galaxies and so when I touched Hubble something special happened in me and it was very pleasant. Debris: it is a reality. What you are saying is right. On one side we have a lot of debris – many more than 2000 and in lower orbit we have about 30,000 debris that is larger than 10 cms in size, and we have active satellites also but less than debris.

There is no doubt that the satellites and debris on the low orbit increase the risk of collission. Fortunately, all the objects that really in lower orbit and are below 400 kms have a relatively low lifetime. It is really the satellite or debris that are 600, 700 or 1000 kms above the earth surface that are concern because then the lifetime is several decades or centuries. And that is the problem – the lifetime of the object very high in the orbit. It is not exaggerated. We have had collissions already between active satellites and the debris or non-active objects in space. The increasing density of objects in space mainly low orbit communications satellite, the problem will become worse. And there definitely is a need for regulation about the orbits and very object sent into the space as they have to follow certain regulatory measures.

The United Nations is taking steps in this direction but we need to continue doing that more aggressively. Right now, normally, a satellite at the end of its life is supposed to come back in the next 25 years and this is a rule that is relatively loose till we need to diminish the numbers so that at the end of its lifecycle the satellite has to come down within 3 to 4 or 5 years maximum and the UN is working in this direction. It has to be an international effort. It cannot be effort of one nation only. Even a very powerful space nation like United States of America has to be a global effort to reduce the lifetime of a satellite at end of its life. I think the only way to increase the fairness of utilisation of space is regulatory measures.

I mentioned UN but still is a lot to do in that direction. Space has to be accessible to every nation. But there has to be regulation so that we do not increase beyond a certain level, the density of objects in the space because the risk of collission will be too high. You know there are many possibilities that the space offers – science, technology and of course the effort towards better earth in the future. I could give a very simple message – space or inspiration, knowledge and better life and better earth.

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