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article imageCanada backing startup to boost data on space debris

By Karen Graham     Jun 16, 2019 in Technology
Paris - The Canadian government’s contracting arm is backing a proposed new satellite system that will use big data analytics to provide commercially available data about the Earth and its orbit amid growing concerns about the risks posed by space debris.
Montreal-based startup NorthStar Earth and Space, with the support of the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) is being allowed to negotiate initial service agreements with the United States, Britain, and other countries, NorthStar CEO Stewart Bain said, reports Reuters.
The deal with CCC will be signed on Monday at the Paris Airshow. Bain cited the growing international interest in the company's project, owing to the increasing levels of activity in space, and mounting concerns about the dangers of over 600,000 pieces of space debris floating in the Earth's orbit.
The United States and other countries already track space debris, however, there is an increasing demand for "real-time" data that would be commercially available. There is already the expectation that this "new space economy" could grow quickly to be worth over $1 trillion a year,
A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately...
A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95% of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites.
NASA Orbital Debris Program Office
“This agreement puts us in a strong position to work with the United States, the UK, and other countries to deliver our services,” Bain told Reuters, noting the government of Canada and Quebec had each already invested $13 million to date.
Private investors include Telesystem Space Inc. of Montreal, the major shareholder, and the Space Alliance of Europe. The Space Alliance was formed by Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space - a joint partnership formed by France's Thales and Italy's Leonardo.
The NorthStar system
The proposed system calls for the launch of a constellation of small satellites that will use hyperspectral, infrared and optical sensors to continuously monitor and analyze the Earth’s ecosystems and orbit.
NorthStar's system will use a platform consisting of big data analytics and artificial intelligence to correlate the amount of information available, in turn, accurately predicting potential collisions between debris and other orbiting objects. The platform will also help in validating and improving existing surveillance systems.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who is also attending the Paris Air Show this week, said he is encouraging all space-faring nations to work together in tackling the space debris problem. “Partnerships are important in a world where there are alternative views about the future of space,” he said.
Artist s concept of one of the eight Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System satellites deployed ...
Artist's concept of one of the eight Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System satellites deployed in space.
The seriousness of the problem
Space agencies like NASA and ESA track 18,000 objects orbiting the Earth, but only 1,100 are functioning spacecraft. Additionally, there are an estimated 750,000 more pieces of debris floating around, any of which could cause serious damage to a manned spacecraft.
The growing volume of space debris objects in orbit means collisions will become more frequent. This increases the probability of a cascade scenario where a collision creates debris which triggers further collisions, a catastrophic chain reaction known as the Kessler Syndrome, named after the NASA scientist who conceived of it in 1978.
Kessler proposed it would take 30 to 40 years for such a threshold to be reached and today, some experts think we are already at critical mass in low-Earth orbit at about 560 to 620 miles (900 to 1,000 kilometers).
More about northstar, Canada, big data analytics, Paris Airshow, Space debris
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