. Both the Soviet Union and the United States were doing crazy military experiments to get an edge over each other., But one of those experiments was a bizarre example of Cold War paranoia and military mentality. At work by the United States space program. As part of a military program, the United States launched nearly 500 million needles into space., But why did they do this? Are those needles still out there and can they damage satellites, the space station or astronauts? Its an interesting fact to know that during the summer of 1963, the Earth probably looked a bit like Saturn and well tell you why in a moment, but well start from the beginning.. During the late 1950s long range communications had to be carried out using undersea cables or over the horizon radio.. They both worked well, but neither one of these were invulnerable.. The USA knew that if the Soviets found a way to cut undersea cables or made an attack on a telegraph cable, the United States would only be able to rely on radio broadcasts to communicate overseas.. But there was also a problem with this, because the ionosphere could be affected by solar storms from the Sun or by a high altitude nuclear weapon.. An example of this was Operation HARDTACK, a series of 35 nuclear weapons tests done in the Pacific Ocean. One of the atmospheric detonations destroyed the ionosphere over a vast area of the test site and interrupted many high frequency radio communications across the Pacific for over 8 hours.
. This is because high frequency radio signals travel by reflecting off the lower surface of the ionosphere and they can travel beyond the horizon and around the curvature of the Earth., Destroy the ionosphere and you destroy all radio communications.. Now, keep in mind that communication satellites had not yet been invented.. The United States suddenly found their communications for the command and control of their strategic forces under big threat. A failure at this critical time was obvious., But the United States would come up with one of the most strange and unusual plans to get past. This problem involving tiny needles, … An engineer named Walter Morrow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technologys Lincoln Laboratory, along with help of other engineers, came up with the idea in 1958 to create an artificial reflector that could replace the ionosphere and, just before this, both the Soviet Union and the United States showed their ability to put satellites in orbit, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.. It was called Westford Needles or Project Needles and later named Project West Ford, a joint scientific and military cold war plan designed to create two artificial rings around the planet, composed of small whisker, like copper needles. That would act as tiny, copper, dipole antennas. Lincoln Laboratory proposed an experiment to demonstrate transcontinental communications by sending full duplex simultaneously in both directions. Transmissions between terminals in Camp Parks, California and Westford Massachusetts., The tiny orbiting wires would act as half wave dipoles and resonate at about eight gigahertz right between the area.
Communications would be transmitted at about 7750 and 8350 megahertz. These copper wires were tiny about 1.8 centimeters long or 0.7 inch in length and 0.0018 centimeters or 0.0007 inch in diameter., But the challenges to pull this off at the time were daunting. High gain antennas, high power, transmitters and a sufficient number of energy scattering dipoles would Need to be present in the volume of space where transmit and receive beams overlapped in the dipole belt.. The experimental system design would operate in the X band using parabolic dishes 60 feet across with 60dB gain antennas, 40kW, transmitters and receiverdemodulators to handle the complex signals and there would need to be at least 480 million dipoles in medium Earth orbit about 3500 and 3800 kilometers Or 200 miles above the Earth. Getting the copper needles into space would also be a challenge.. The first attempt was made with the Westford 1 satellite on October 21, 1969, but the needles failed to disperse when the dipole dispenser ejection mechanism failed to spin up and no dipoles were released.. But on May 9 1963, the Westford 2 satellite carried a redesigned dipole dispenser and the dipole belt was established and the dispenser slowly released a ring of copper needles that increased by 1000 miles per day, but was only a few tenths of a degree. Wide.. However, only about 120 215 million copper needles were released., But did this artificial reflector work like it was intended now that there was a copper ring around the planet? It turns out that it did work and voice data and teletype were regularly transmitted between the two Project.
Westford Stations in California and Massachusetts., And although the project didnt go as expected, it ended up being the first demonstration of reliable transcontinental military satellite communications. And for the record, the USSR, knew about the project and was even invited to watch what would happen.. Nothing was kept. A secret. Articles were sent to some 800 foreign scientists and the International Astronomical Union called for the fullest observation of the orbiting dipoles.1. However, by this time, it was clear that the future of space communications would belong to orbiting satellites with active transponders., But Project West Ford, put Lincoln Laboratories into the space business and in early 1963 the United States Department Of Defense would designate Lincoln Labs as the lead Technology developer for military communication, satellites., And thus the project was shelved and communication satellites were born., But where are those needles now and are they still up there? Could they cause some problems as space junk? A mission investigation concluded that only 25 45 of the needles dispersed properly and the rest remained in clumps. Many of the needles decayed rapidly from solar radiation pressure. But the clumps did not decay. Thanks to advanced satellites and a recent study by NASA its been discovered that there are currently around 46 clumps of these needles floating around up there in Earths orbit.. But the thing is that they are in Earths middle orbit and far away from anything like the International Space Station, which orbits just 408 kilometers above Earth about 253 miles.
So no they are not a danger., But there is more out there than just space needles. To worry about., There is a lot of space junk too small to be tracked, but large enough to threaten future human spaceflights and robotic missions.. Some of this space junk is traveling at extremely high speeds, were talking in excess of 25266 kilometers or 15700 miles per hour. In low Earth orbit and thats nearly 10 times faster than a speeding, bullet. NASAs Orbital Debris Program Office has been busy tracking all of this space junk and right now there are more than 27000 pieces of orbital debris being tracked by the United States Department of Defenses Global Space Surveillance Network or SSN sensors. As of January 1, 2021, there were 6542 satellites in orbit and only half of those satellites are active.. Even the smallest fragments can cause major damage, including stray nuts and bolts frozen particles of rocket fuel and even small flecks of paint, as they forced NASA to replace several damaged windshields on the old Space Shuttles.. In fact, current estimates suggest there is at least a half a million pieces of space debris about the size of a marble and 100 million pieces of space junk about the size of a softball.. However, its just those 27000 pieces that are being tracked., The International Space Station has had to conduct 29 different, evasive maneuvers since 1999 to avoid being hit by space junk and just three in 2020 alone.
. But on May 12 2021 NASA and the Canadian Space Agency noticed there was a hole in the section of the Canadarm2 arm boom and thermal blanket.. It doesnt help that some countries, including the United States, decided to blow up their satellites with missiles as part of military testing.. In fact, India blew up one of their satellites in 2019, which left 400 shards of dangerous space debris.. But what happens when space junk makes its way back down to Earth? There are some pieces that are big enough to survive, reentry where it smashes down on the planet, and there have been some scary things that have happened since we started putting satellites into orbit.. For example, on January 21, 2001, a part from a Payload Assist Module or known as PAM D re entered the atmosphere over the Middle East, its titanium motor casing, which weighs about 70 kilograms, 154 pounds slammed down in the desert of Saudi Arabia., Also take, for instance, The recent Chinese Long March 5B rocket booster, which re entered the Earths atmosphere uncontrolled and rained down debris on a village in Ivory, Coast. And right now. China is aggressively sending more modules into orbit to complete their space station.. That means there will be more of these Long March 5B boosters falling back to Earth, and unless China changes how it operates, the odds of someone getting hurt by a chunk of rocket booster will only grow.. Speaking of China, one of their satellites just got whacked by a hunk of Russian rocket in March 2021.
. That satellite Yunhai 1 02 was hit by a piece of a Zenit 2 rocket.. It then malfunctioned and broke up in the atmosphere., But its not just China, with problems with space junk falling back to Earth.. In March 2021, an out of control, SpaceX rocket stage, re entered Earths atmosphere near Seattle, Washington USA.. It surprised residents as it lit up the night sky and pieces of the rocket landed on a farmers property.. This happened due to an engine on the second stage, not firing to bring it down. Safely. Weve definitely not seen the last of space junk accidents and thankfully no astronauts have been injured by anything., But it could happen. One day. Space is only going to get more crowded and its certain that we need ideas for cleaning up the amount of dangerous junk. In space., With that in mind, wed like to ask our viewers, How would you clean up all that junk in space? Let us know in the comments what you think.