Happy Holidays from ThinkTank Maths 2019

19 December 2019

Despite the many, very serious global problems that have attracted much more media coverage that humanity is facing today, such as the blockage of appropriate solutions to global warming by a few major, dominant states, the alarming, rampant pollution of land and oceans by plastics, the growing, manic political drive of nations to compete rather than collaborate…we have chosen again, for the second year running, the theme of ‘space pollution’, given its excessively downplayed nature in spite of the gravity of the problem, and the prospect of massive, unchecked commercial ‘space-grabbing’ strategies and militarisation of space occurring outside of all international regulatory frameworks.

At the present date, there is an official tally of 5,450 successful rocket launches, with a total of approximately 8,950 satellites placed in orbit since 1957; 5,000 satellites are still in space, of which 3,050 are not functioning (lost or drifting). Moreover, due to satellite collisions (officially 500 reported to date) and deliberate destruction by their owners, the amount of uncontrolled space debris in orbit around Earth is constantly increasing; 22,300 objects are seen and tracked according to ESA (19,779 according to NASA, 26,000 according to the ASTRIA Project), but an estimated 3,400 objects bigger than 10 cm still cannot be tracked, as well as 900,000 objects between 1cm and 10cm, and 128 million objects between 1mm and 1cm (Space debris by the numbers).

Every year satellites, rockets and even the International Space Station (ISS) are forced to perform collision avoidance manoeuvres. In 2018 ESA alone reported 28 such manoeuvres to avoid satellites and debris clouds.

Rules of the Game

The space agency you work for has successfully placed a satellite in orbit. The work is not over yet, however, as the risk of collision with space debris and other satellites still remains.

You have been given the task of keeping the satellite safe from collisions, from the control room on Earth. To help you, several sensors on the satellite monitor the surrounding space to detect approaching debris using radar, LIDAR and other techniques, and their readings are displayed in various representations on the 8 small screens at the right side of the control screen. To help you, the controller, the pictures on the top of the screen give an idea of what a clean reading will look like.

When a collision is imminent, the debris will cause disturbance in some of the readings on screens on the right, and a red vertical progress bar will appear on the screen to show you how much time you have left. The longer the vertical bar is, the closer the collision will be. Before you run out of time, you will have to find and click on the 4 cleanest readings that represent a safe new direction to be taken to avoid a collision. Based on your decision, the satellite will then adjust itself to a new orbit. But be careful; if you select the wrong readings, or if you wait too long, the satellite will be destroyed.

The aim of the game is to keep playing and avoid as many collisions as you can; indeed in real life the threat of a new possible collision is always present for satellites and space stations in orbit. Good Luck!!

Click the button “Avoid debris” to start the game.

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