The rush to clean up outer space has begun.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a vortex of trash located between America's West Coast and Japan. In fact, it's not only one patch—there's a western patch closer to Japan and an eastern patch bobbing around southern California. While the surface debris is bad enough, it turns out that 70 percent of the garbage sinks to the ocean's bottom.
Waterways are not the only places we dump trash. While environmentalists finally forced change on Staten Island's Fresh Kills Landfill, the world's largest garbage dump was the subject of notoriety for being visible from space. Speaking of space, humans have also left plenty of trash floating in the ether. As of 2019, an estimated 129 million pieces of space debris orbit our atmosphere.
While most of the debris is tiny, roughly 34,000 objects measure over 10 centimeters in length. This includes dead spacecraft like the U.S. ship Vanguard I which first launched in 1958, and a camera lost by American astronaut Ed White on the first-ever space-walk. While most debris will incinerate upon entering Earth's atmosphere, many problems exist due to all that trash, such as interfering with newer missions.
Artist's impression of the terrestrial suburbs, with its satellites and debris
"Out of sight, out of mind" is not an appropriate mantra if we want to continue space exploration. Last week, the European Space Agency (ESA) took the proactive step of finalizing a contract to begin space clean-up. Beginning in 2025, the ClearSpace-1 mission will remove a washing machine-sized piece of junk—a payload adapter—with a four-armed claw spacecraft. After plucking it from space, the claw will force it downward until incinerated.
Over 23,000 objects have been discarded in 5,500 launches over the last 60 years. Space junk can float around for thousands of years. This is not a benign occurrence. In 2009, a communications satellite collided with a dead Russian military satellite, resulting in thousands of pieces of new debris.
Cleaning up small junk is quite difficult—there's nothing akin to a pool skimmer in space yet—so ClearSpace, the company behind this project, will begin by grabbing a 112-kilogram payload adapter that was originally launched in 2013. The team is using a claw due to its mechanical flexibility; they tried a net as well, but given that you have to get it right on the first attempt, they wanted a bit of breathing room.
ClearSpace-1: Earth’s First Space Debris Removal Mission
The ESA signed a $105 million contract with ClearSpace for this project. ClearSpace CEO Luc Piguet says there's a lot of work in outer space:
"The way space has been used until now has led to a situation where over 5,000 satellites and out-of-control rocket stages are in orbit compared to only 2,700 working satellites. In-orbit services are not only a natural part of future space operations, they will also ensure the development of a thriving space economy."
ClearSpace isn't the only company leaving Earth's atmosphere. In October, the Japanese company, Astroscale, announced that it raised $191 million to clean up space debris. This is part of a broader movement by the U.K. Space Agency, which has awarded seven companies with £1m to clean up space. Graham Turnock, chief executive of the agency, says space will become an economic powerhouse in the coming years.
"People probably do not realise just how cluttered space is. You would never let a car drive down a motorway full of broken glass and wreckages, and yet this is what satellites and the space station have to navigate every day in their orbital lanes… This funding will help us grasp this opportunity and in doing so create sought after expertise and new high skill jobs across the country."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.
- There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
- Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
- "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
Starting and running a business takes more than a good idea and the desire to not have a boss.
- Anyone can start a business and be an entrepreneur, but the reality is that most businesses will fail. Building something successful from the ground up takes hard work, passion, intelligence, and a network of people who are equally as smart and passionate as you are. It also requires the ability to accept and learn from your failures.
- In this video, entrepreneurs in various industries including 3D printing, fashion, hygiene, capital investments, aerospace, and biotechnology share what they've learned over the years about relationships, setting and attaining goals, growth, and what happens when things don't go according to plan.
- "People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there's just no true passion behind it," says Miki Agrawal, co-founder of THINX and TUSHY. A key point of Agrawal's advice is that if you can't see yourself in something for 10 years, you shouldn't do it.
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think.
Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
They can get candid with each other. In this Big Think Live session, Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, and Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, will discuss entrepreneurship, decision-making, and leadership lessons from Victoria's new book, Digital Goddess: The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur. The book is a raw and real roadmap for any woman who has ever thought about striking out on her own, and will empower you to get meetings, raise money, and make hard choices—and never get so serious that you can't still have fun doing what you love.
Victoria Montgomery Brown has built and run Big Think for the last 12 years. It's become the leading digital media knowledge company, making people and companies smarter and faster with the world's best thinkers and doers. It wasn't a venture-funded tech darling, born and raised in a Silicon Valley incubator. It's a scrappy, creative, labor of love that was born in a New York City bar and raised in a rented closet in someone else's office. It's had to fight for its existence most of the time. Her new book is Digital Goddess: The Unfiltered Lessons of a Female Entrepreneur (available for preorder).
Brown graduated from Montreal's McGill University in 1997 and received her MBA from Harvard Business School in 2003.
Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter and the author of Smarter Faster Better, about the science of productivity and The Power of Habit, about the science of habit formation in our lives, companies and societies. Duhigg studied history at Yale, received an MBA from Harvard Business School, and was a reporter at The New York Times for a decade. Today, he is a leading writer on the nature of habits and productivity. He writes books and magazine articles for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and The Atlantic.
A European start-up uses satellite data to pinpoint individual sources of abnormal methane concentration.
- Just 100 sources of methane emit 20 megatons each year.
- Thanks to satellite data, individual culprits can now be found.
- The new tech could be used to police 'abnormal' methane emissions.
Significant contributor to global warming
Nodding donkey in Midland, Texas. The oil and gas industry is a major emitter of methane.
Image: Eric Kounce TexasRaiser, public domain
Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas (after CO2), and its concentration in the atmosphere is increasing at around 1% each year. Because it absorbs the sun's heat even more efficiently than CO2, it's a significant contributor to global warming.
The first step to fight the rise in methane emissions is to track who's doing it. That's just become a lot easier. Paris-based tech start-up Kayrros can now find individual sources of abnormal methane emissions, all across the world. That's a first, and it's made possible by data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite.
Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and launched in 2017, the British-built Sentinel-5 Precursor (Sentinel-5P) is the first satellite of the Copernicus program dedicated to monitoring air pollution, thanks to a spectrometer called Tropomi (short for Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument).
With a resolution of about 50 km2, this Dutch-built instrument can monitor atmospheric levels of aerosols, sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde (CH2O), ozone (O3) and methane (CH4).
High-volume methane leaks
Abnormal methane concentrations in 2019 – often found in regions of the world producing or processing oil and gas. Data provided by the Copernicus program, processed by Kayrros.
You may not have heard of Tropomi yet, but it's likely you've already seen its work. Earlier this year, Copernicus Sentinel-5P produced the images that showed substantially reduced NO2 levels across China, due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Tropomi also offers the most detailed monitoring of methane emissions presently available. Combining that data with other input from older-model Copernicus satellites Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2, and from other sources (including ground sensors, position tracking and even social media), Kayrros scientists can identify the size, potency, and location of abnormal methane leaks around the world.
According to Kayrros, there are around 100 high-volume methane leaks active around the world at any given time. Together, they release about 20 megatons of methane per year. About half of that volume is associated with mining for oil, gas or coal, or other heavy industries. Together, that amount of methane per annum is equivalent to CO2 emissions of France and Germany combined.
So, how precise is the Kayrros method? Here's a recent case study.
Plume over the Permian Basin
In December last year, Kayrros used data from Copernicus-5P to identify the source of a methane plume over the Permian Basin, which covers western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Sitting on top of a part of the Mid-Continent Oil Field, the Basin's surface is dotted with hundreds of oil wells. Yet with a little help from Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2, Copernicus-5P managed to find the exact location, and the individual culprit.
For the first time, Kayrros tech and Copernicus-5P data make it possible to detect abnormal methane emissions in real time. Not only will this increase the precision of methane emission estimates, it will also allow regulators to find and fine the exact culprits, and if necessary, shut down their operations.
Found: the culprit
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