ISO standards: keeping space clean

By on 15 October, 2013

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Since humankind first touched the aether with Sputnik in 1957, almost 5,000 launches have placed around 6,600 satellites into orbit, with 3,600 remaining in space, despite only around 1,000 remaining operational.

Adding to this space junk are discarded rocket stages, and other extra-terrestrial flotsam and jetsam, including nuts and bolts.  In fact, some 34,000 objects larger than 10 cm have been observed at least once by radar or telescopes.

These orbiting objects can be dangerous, potentially causing accidents both in space and back on earth. Experts are therefore calling for measures to help limit debris in order to safeguard the future of space activities.

Among these measures are a number of ISO standards, for example, ISO 24113, which focuses on the requirements for space debris mitigation.

ISO 24113 aims to ensure that spacecraft and discarded launch vehicle orbital stages are designed, operated, and disposed of in a way that prevents them from generating debris throughout their orbital lifetime.

The standard is one of a family that helps avoid the release of objects during normal operation, prevent accidental break-ups, and ensure that launch vehicle orbital stages leave the low and geostationary earth orbits where they pose most risk.

Other ISO standards focus on preventing damage caused by collision, such as ISO 11227:2012, which contains a test method to characterise what happens when a material used on the external surface of a spacecraft is hit by orbital debris.

A number of other standards are under development, such as: ISO 16158, which focuses on avoiding collisions using the Conjunction Data Message; and ISO 16126, which concentrates on the survivability assessment against impacts from small-size debris and meteoroids.

Other topics also in development include the standardisation of space debris and natural environment models (ISO 14200), and the design and operation manual for spacecraft operated in the debris environment (ISO 18146).

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