Small Satellite Revolution Brings Opportunity & Danger, Warns Aerospace Engineer Uma Shangery Aruldass at TEDxMMU

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Small satellite technology promises major benefits, but also carries daunting risks that must be mitigated, according to aerospace engineer Uma Shangery Aruldass. Speaking at a TEDxMMU event, she shared insights on the small satellite revolution and the urgent need to address orbital debris.

Aruldass stressed the cost advantages of small satellites.

“It costs only 0.5% of an ordinary conventional satellite,” she said. This lower barrier to entry “gives it as a perfect platform for developing nations in the space industry like Malaysia, Uganda and Cuba to continuously explore.”

However, she warned that even tiny satellites can be highly destructive in orbit: “At that speed of 27,000 kilometers per hour a fleck of paint would be the bullet. It would damage a billion-dollar satellite in a split second.” With thousands more small satellites planned, the threat of debris collisions is exponential.

Two common misconceptions were debunked by Aruldass.

“The truth is all of the existing datasets on tracking systems we can only track objects up to the size of a cellphone,” she said. Anything smaller goes untracked, making collisions unpredictable. She also dismissed the idea that debris burns up quickly, saying: “the worst-case scenario shows it takes up to 122 years for junk to reenter the atmosphere.”

While optimistic about Malaysia’s microsatellite capabilities, Aruldass stressed “it is time for us to work towards the de-orbiting of the smaller satellites.” With congestion mounting, developing solutions for removal and mitigation of space debris is crucial to ensure “transforming the tomorrow for a better future.”

Featured image: Credit: TEDx

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