Space Junk 3D movie aims to expose space debris problem

20 Jan 2012

Computer-generated images of objects in the Earth's orbit that are being tracked. About 95pc of the objects in the illustration are orbital debris, ie, not functional satellites. Image by NASA Orbital Debris Program Office

With the US having this week declared it is going to work with the EU and other nations to devise an international code of conduct for outer space activities, a new movie called ‘Space Junk’ is aiming to show in 3D how humankind has been littering the earth’s low orbit during the past 50 years of earth exploration.

Melrae Pictures, a creator of 3D and 2D entertainment, is behind the upcoming release. According to the company, the stereoscopic film aims to reflect a “growing ring of orbiting debris” it says is threatening the future safety of space exploration. The 38-minute film is set to be released in IMAX and digital theatres.

Space debris can include defunct satellites, dust from rocket motors and paint flakes that cloud around in low earth orbit and which can provide risk to spacecrafts.

The European Union has been drawing up a voluntary code of conduct for space activities since 2008. One of the igniters for such a code was when the Chinese military destroyed a weather satellite in 2007, generating massive space debris as a result.

US to direct new code of conduct?

But last week the US said it would not be going along with the EU’s proposed code of conduct, Ellen Tauscher, the undersecretary of state for arms control and nonproliferation, indicated how the code was “too restrictive” for the US. Instead, it has come up with a new tactic. This week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would be joining up with the European Union and other nations to devise an international code of conduct.

Citing how the long-term sustainability of our “space environment” is at risk from space debris, Clinton said the US will not enter into a code of conduct that “in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space or our ability to protect the United States and our allies”.

Just last Sunday, the failed Russian satellite Phobos-Grunt crashed back to earth, burning up over the Pacific Ocean. It had been in the earth’s orbit since its unsuccessful November launch.

The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, is now investigating the possible causes for the failure of the Phobos-Grunt probe. Last September, the American UARS satellite fell into the ocean, while in October, Germany’s Rosat telescope also crashed into the ocean.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic