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Mind your head

20 Feb 2024

The heavens above our heads are filled with an ever-growing number of satellites.

Some of these birds are getting a bit old and many have been decomissioned already. Once no longer of use, these bits of metal either continue to circle the earth in high orbit or eventually plunge into our atmosphere in an incandescent streak of flame.

Unfortunately however, in the case of the big ones, not all of that metal, wire and other material which makes up the satellite, is totally consumed before the earth gets in the way.

Sometime in the next 48 hours another 2.3 tonnes of dead bird will fall to earth.

Will you be the unlucky one who catches it, or what's left of it?

Fortunately the odds of falling space junk scoring a bulls-eye hit on some poor, unsuspecting human are very, very low -- albeit, even those involved in the space industry admit "not zero".

Arstechnica give a good overview of the latest "uncontrolled re-entry" with the reassuring words "Should we be concerned? Not really".

Indeed, if you crunch the numbers, even on the back of a napkin, you quickly discover that the chances of being poleaxed by the remaining fragments of a satellite such as this are so small as to be "virtually zero". I also note that the article proudly proclaims that "No human has ever been killed by a piece of falling space debris" which might be more accurate if you added the qualifier "man made" to the "space debris" bit.

In the wake of Tunguska around the turn of last century it's pretty much guaranteed that falling chunks of space rock have killed people and it's only luck that there were no deaths associated with the Chelyabinks meteor event back in 2013.

Note that the satellite falling into our laps this week weighs in at 2.3 tonnes, a pretty significant chunk of kit and although most of it will be consumed during its fiery journey through the atmosphere, it is expected that pieces weighing as much as 50Kg will make it to ground-level.

I find it interesting how we have government agencies telling us not to worry about this, the risks are low and nobody has ever been killed by such events -- while at the same time we're subjected to ever-increasing restrictions, rules and regulations regarding small plastic drones weighing just 250g.

Apparently 50Kg of space junk is okay to fall on your head but 250g of plastic is not.

Ah, but the chances of anyone being killed by that 50Kg piece of junk is almost zero, right? After all, in the entire history of space exploration, nobody has been killed by a falling satellite have they?

Well guess what?

In the entire history of mankind, nobody has ever died as the result of recreational drone use either.

The irony becomes even greater when you acknowledge that being hit by a mass of 50Kg that has fallen from the edge of space will certainly kill you, whereas being hit by a small plastic drone might, at worst, produce a bruise or laceration.

It saddens me greatly that the word "safety" is so widely abused as a method of convincing people to comply with the directives of those with some unspoken agenda. To suggest that, on the one hand, you have nothing to fear from 50Kg lumps of metal falling from the sky but that, on the other hand, tiny plastic drones are so dangerous they must be all but regulated out of existence is lunacy.

However, I guess that's the way the world works these days -- and few people seem to have the brains or the testicular fortitude to challenge such idiocy.

Carpe Diem folks!

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