Prince Charles calls for environmental agreement for space after humans ‘made rather a mess of this planet’ as he visits Japanese tech firm in Oxfordshrie
- The Prince of Wales appeared in good spirits today as he arrived in Oxfordshrie
- Royal donned a grey suit and pink tie as he visited Japanese firm Astroscale Ltd
- Visited the firm to learn of the team’s ground-breaking ELSA-d space mission
The Prince of Wales has called on nations to sign up to an environmental deal for space after ‘making a mess of this planet’.
Prince Charles’ comments came as he learnt about the UK’s leading role in helping to clear millions of pieces of space junk orbiting the planet, a new industry estimated to be worth billions.
He was speaking to engineers from the private firm Astroscale, which is pioneering new technology to capture defunct satellites with the aim of removing or repairing them.
The operation has been likened to ‘AA’ breakdown cover for space.
Science Minister George Freeman joined the prince at the mission control of the company’s operations, near Didcot in Oxfordshire, and announced the UK Space Agency was providing £1.7 million for 13 new projects to track and remove dangerous space debris.
Prince of Wales (right) is greeted by the Lord-Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, Marjorie Glasgow, as he arrives for a visit to Astroscale
Prince Charles (pictured) appeared in good spirits today as he visited a space company in Oxfordshrie
The Prince of Wales (pictured), 73, donned a dapper grey suit and pink tie as he arrived at Japanese firm Astroscale Ltd in Didcot, to learn of the team’s ground-breaking ELSA-d space mission
Sitting down with the minister and industry representatives, including Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, Charles told them: ‘It just occurred while we’re making rather a mess of this planet, that it might be useful to have an environmental management agreement for space.’
Mr Freeman said after the meeting: ‘Astroscale is a world leading technology platform for reducing very, very damaging space debris and helping companies make sure that when their satellites die they’re removed and brought back down to earth.
‘There’s a huge commercial opportunity. As the sector evolves everyone will be required to have satellite maintenance and servicing contracts to show they’re not dumping rubbish in space, and I think the UK could be a world leader in setting the standards and therefore the insurance market.’
Since the early days of space flight in the 1950s, debris has been building up around the planet and it is estimated that a shocking 330 million pieces – from obsolete satellites to spent rocket bodies and much smaller objects – are currently orbiting Earth.
They pose a threat to the increasing number of new satellites being launched each year which provide vital services, including communications and climate change monitoring.
Launched in March last year, the 200kg craft consisted of two components to perform a series of tests in space to trial the ability to retrieve junk with a magnetic mechanism. Pictured, Charles
The Prince of Wales speaks with George Freeman (centre), Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, during a visit to Astroscale Ltd in Didcot
Staff at Astroscale’s base told the future king that they were aiming to commercialise their services by 2024.
Harriet Brettle, Astroscale’s head of business analysis, told Charles: ‘We’re looking at providing services to satellite operators, if their satellites have failed on orbit, we can be the AA, the breakdown cover, they call us up and we can go and remove their satellite safely for them.
‘We’re looking at capturing a big chunk of the multi-billion dollar in-orbit servicing market by 2030.’
The company stressed that the fledgling industry needs an adequate policy framework from governments.
WHAT IS SPACE JUNK? MORE THAN 170 MILLION PIECES OF DEAD SATELLITES, SPENT ROCKETS AND FLAKES OF PAINT POSE ‘THREAT’ TO SPACE INDUSTRY
There are an estimated 170 million pieces of so-called ‘space junk’ – left behind after missions that can be as big as spent rocket stages or as small as paint flakes – in orbit alongside some US$700 billion (£555bn) of space infrastructure.
But only 27,000 are tracked, and with the fragments able to travel at speeds above 16,777 mph (27,000kmh), even tiny pieces could seriously damage or destroy satellites.
However, traditional gripping methods don’t work in space, as suction cups do not function in a vacuum and temperatures are too cold for substances like tape and glue.
Grippers based around magnets are useless because most of the debris in orbit around Earth is not magnetic.
Around 500,000 pieces of human-made debris (artist’s impression) currently orbit our planet, made up of disused satellites, bits of spacecraft and spent rockets
Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, either require or cause forceful interaction with the debris, which could push those objects in unintended, unpredictable directions.
Scientists point to two events that have badly worsened the problem of space junk.
The first was in February 2009, when an Iridium telecoms satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided.
The second was in January 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite weapon on an old Fengyun weather satellite.
Experts also pointed to two sites that have become worryingly cluttered.
One is low Earth orbit which is used by satnav satellites, the ISS, China’s manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others.
The other is in geostationary orbit, and is used by communications, weather and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to Earth.
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk