ESA (European Space Agency) wants to launch an orbiting telescope to monitor pieces of space debris. The junk is too small to be spotted with ground-based telescopes, but they can cause serious damage if they hit a spacecraft.
This satellite will be the first of its kind. ESA hopes that the orbiting telescope will make it to space in 2025, but this will be happening only if they get the funding approval from ESA member states in 2022.
The head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, Tim Flohrer, told Space.com, that the spacecraft, which carries an 8-inch-wide optical telescope, would orbit at the altitude of 600 to 700 kilometers, where ESA and NASA’s computer models predict a high density of small space debris fragments.
“The telescope would be completely passive, working on the principle that the sun illuminates the object and we then detect the reflection from the object,” Flohrer mentioned.
ESA has experience with the wrecking power of tiny space debris. In August 2016, a particle that was about a millimeter in diameter hit through a solar panel of the Earth-observing satellite, Copernicus Sentinel-1A. Thanks to onboard cameras designed to monitor solar panels, the spacecraft operator of the agency identified what caused it.
ESA officials said that the Earth-observing satellite continued its mission, but if the particle would have hit the spacecraft’s main body, the consequences would have been much more serious.