It may seem ridiculously unlikely that someone could be killed by space junk falling from the sky. Although there have been instances of injuries and property damage, nobody has yet died in such an accident.
With more satellites, rockets, and probes being launched into space, do we need to take the risk more seriously?
Falling rocket parts over the next ten years may cause fatalities, according to a study published in Nature Astronomy.
We are almost completely unaware that debris rains down on us from space every minute of every day. Every year, around 40,000 tons of dust are deposited on the Earth's surface as asteroids and comets pass through the atmosphere.
We are not concerned about such debris, but spacecraft can be damaged by it - as was recently reported for the James Webb space telescope. Some meteorites arrive as larger samples, and a ten-metre-wide body might drive through the atmosphere once every 100 years or so to form a crater.
As evidenced by the lack of dinosaurs today, kilometre-sized objects rarely reach the surface, causing death and destruction. Essentially, these are examples of natural space debris, whose uncontrolled arrival is unpredictable and spreads across the globe more or less evenly.
As a result of satellite launches and rocket launches, artificial space debris such as spent rocket stages can arrive uncontrolled into space.
Based on mathematical models of rocket inclinations and orbits in space and population density below them, as well as 30 years of satellite data, the authors estimated where rocket debris and other space junk lands when it falls back to Earth.
In the coming decade, parts may re-enter the atmosphere at a small, but significant rate. Southern latitudes are more likely to experience this than northern ones.
Study results showed that rocket bodies are approximately three times more likely to land at Indonesian latitudes, Bangladeshi latitudes, or Nigerian latitudes than at US latitudes, Chinese latitudes, or Russian latitudes.
As a result of uncontrolled rocket re-entries, the authors calculated "casualty expectations" over the next decade. In the next decade, on average, there is a 10% chance of one or more casualties due to re-entry debris spreading over an area of ten square metres.
It has been assumed that debris from satellites and rockets is unlikely to cause harm at the Earth's surface (or in the atmosphere to air traffic).
In most studies of space debris, a focus has been placed on the risk posed by defunct satellites that might interfere with the safe operation of functioning satellites. Additional waste is generated by unused fuel and batteries in orbit.
There is a high probability that, as the number of rocket launch businesses increases, and the business moves from government to private enterprise, more accidents will occur, both in space and on Earth, such as the one that followed the launch of the Chinese Long March 5b.
In light of this, the new study warns that the 10 percent figure is a conservative estimate.
QUESTION: What ramifications should there be for random shrapnel caused by launches?
Let us know in the comments and keep thrusting Australia into the deep unknown…