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SpaceX Executives Says Starship Rocket System Will Help Clean Up 760,000 Space Junk Fragments in Orbit

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According to Gwynne Shotwell, the president and CEO of the company, SpaceX’s Starship rocket system could help clean out the junk that has been left in Earth’s orbit.

The company’s president and chief executive officer of SpaceX’s said Starship rocket system will help solve the issue of space junk.

In a Time Magazine online interview, Gwynne Shotwell said, “There are rocket bodies littering the space environment, and dead satellites.”

According to Shotwell, SpaceX, which was created by Elon Musk in 2002, claims its Starship rocket could help clear out space debris left in Earth’s orbit. The rocket is designed to carry heavy payloads and accommodate as many as 100 passengers.

Shotwell said: “It’s quite possible that we could leverage Starship to go to some of these dead rocket bodies other people’s rockets, of course basically, pick up some of this junk in outer space. It’s not going to be easy, but I do believe Starship offers the possibility of going and doing that.”

When asked if SpaceX is implementing any new policies to combat the space debris problem, Shotwell said the company is moving “the entire constellation to a lower altitude so that the satellites decay much quicker.” She added that the satellites will then break up and fall back to Earth.

Almost 900 Starlink satellites have already been rocketed into orbit by SpaceX, but not all of them could still be operating. As of October, it is currently orbiting at least 820 functioning Starlink satellites.

According to The Verge, this is because a small amount has failed or been entirely removed from orbit. SpaceX aims to launch around 12,000 more by mid-2027, but this could rise to 42,000.

“Space debris is increasingly of concern, and the collision of two massive space debris objects ranging from one to ten metric tons presents the greatest environmental risk,” said Daniel Oltrogge, director at the Center for Space Standards and Innovation (CSSI) at Business Insider.

Estimates differ, but the CSSI estimates that in orbit today there could be 760,000 objects greater than a centimeter in size.

As a result of wide constellations, and the monitoring of more space objects with advanced government systems, the frequency of close approaches has almost doubled in the last four years, Oltrogge said.

“The depictions that Oltrogge saw of the rocket indicate” a considerable amount of cargo space, so that the Starship vehicle could enable Active Debris Removal (ADR) of several potentially large space objects in theory, “he said.

According to Oltrogge, Starship’s cleanup operation may be at least two years off, however. On October 19, Musk said that SpaceX has a ‘battle opportunity’ to send an uncrewed Starship rocket to Mars in 2024. This will be two years later than anticipated in the past.

Oltrogge added, “The Starship could prove to be an effective way to tackle the danger of collision between large space debris objects.”

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