Last month, while setting a record for the most spacewalks by a women, astronaut Peggy Whitson lost her debris shield. Although initially concerned, NASA soon determined that the blanket had floated far enough away from the International Space Station to not pose any immediate danger. Instead, it went on to join the very debris it was intended to protect against.
In the grand scheme of things, Whitson’s shield is insignificant, but it ironically showcases the growing mass of space debris orbiting our planet.
In under 25 years, the amount of junk big enough to destroy a spacecraft has more than doubled, the Agence France-Presse reports from the seventh European Conference on Space Debris in Germany this week.
“We are very much concerned,” said Rolf Densing, who heads operations at the European Space Agency (ESA).
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The big concern is that accumulating space debris may lead to something called the Kessler syndrome, a chain reaction of collisions that exponentially increases the amount of junk. A collision between two satellites may make thousands of smaller objects. Those thousands of objects could collide into millions more objects, and so on. The end result is an impenetrable cloud of debris that would make space travel treacherous.
But this isn’t science fiction. The amount of space debris is already in the hundreds of millions, according to experts.
“Today, we find in space roughly 5,000 objects with sizes larger than one meter (3.25 feet), roughly 20,000 objects with sizes over ten centimeters,” said Holger Krag, who heads ESA’s space debris office, “and 750,000 ‘flying bullets’ of around one centimeter.”
“For objects larger than one millimeter (0.04 inch), 150 million is our model estimate for that,” he added. “The growth in the number of fragments has deviated from the linear trend in the past and has entered into the more feared exponential trend.”
Krag told the conference that ESA receive a collision alert on its ten satellites about every week, and each has to shift position to avoid collision about once or twice a year.
Over the past few years, organizations like ESA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have been researching methods to clean up space debris, including corralling the debris with massive nets and attracting junk with magnets. Unfortunately, JAXA failed in its attempt earlier this year.
The scientists will spend the next few days discussing the problem and reviewing tentative solutions.
The March for Science, happening Saturday in more than 600 cities across the world, is an explicitly political movement. But it’s trying hard to be seen as nonpartisan.
“The goal of the march itself is to highlight the valuable public service role science plays in society and policy and demonstrate the deep public support for science,” the organizers say on the March’s website. “We take strong stands on policy issues based on the best available scientific evidence, but we will not let our movement be defined by any one politician or party.”
Still, the idea for a science march originated after the election of President Donald Trump, whose views on climate change (calling it a hoax perpetuated by China), vaccines (repeating discredited claims about their safety) and aid workers helping fight Ebola in Africa (“People that go to far away places to help out are great — but must suffer the consequences!”) have rattled the scientific community.
And that presents a bit of a conundrum for the drug industry — dependent on support for science, but heavily regulated by the government.
“A march on Washington under the idea of a march around science could be considered a partisan protest of the Trump administration,” said Brian Skorney, an analyst with Robert W. Baird. “I think the industry’s careful that they don’t want to be seen as an opposition force.”
Drug companies have a lot at stake when it comes to the U.S. government, Skorney pointed out. They depend on the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate their products, and are already enduring onslaughts of pressure around their pricing.
So they’re proceeding with caution. But they are proceeding.
The March for Science in Boston counts biopharma companies Intellia Therapeutics, Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals and Warp Drive Bio among its sponsors. In San Francisco, Alphabet’s life sciences company Verily is on the list.
And it’s not just younger, smaller life science companies supporting the march. Drug giant Pfizer is in, too, producing a video proclaiming: “Let’s not imagine a world without science. Our scientists are the cornerstone of what we do. We’re proud to stand behind the #ScienceMarch.”
China stocks tumbled more than 1 percent on Monday and looked set for their biggest loss of the year amid signs that Beijing would tolerate more market volatility as regulators clamp down on shadow banking and speculative trading.
Recent signs of stability in China’s economy “have provided a good external environment and a window of opportunity to reduce leverage in the financial system, strengthen supervision and ward off risks,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.
“Over the past week, interbank rates trended higher, bond and capital markets suffered from sustained corrections and some institutions faced liquidity pressure. But these have little impact to the stability of the broader environment.”
The Shanghai Composite Index slumped 1.6 percent to 3,123.80 points by the lunch break, after posting its biggest weekly loss so far this year last week.
The blue-chip CSI300 index fell 1.3 percent to 3,423.11. Barring a rebound, the indexes looked set for their biggest one-day percentage loss since mid-December. Daily declines of more than 1 percent in the indexes have been rare for notoriously volatile Chinese markets this year.
“Even the better-than-expected Q1 data could not boost the market, as investors are concerned about regulatory risks,” wrote Larry Hu, analyst at Macquarie Capital Ltd, referring to stronger-than-expected 6.9 percent economic growth early in the year.
In the latest of a flurry of regulatory measures, China’s insurance regulator said on Sunday it will ramp up its supervision of insurance companies to make sure they comply with tighter risk controls and threatened to investigate executives who flout rules aimed at rooting out risk-taking.
The banking regulator said late on Friday that growth in Chinese wealth management products (WMPs) and interbank liabilities eased in the first quarter, suggesting authorities are making some headway in containing financial risks built up by years of debt-fuelled stimulus.
But while the clampdown is expected to continue, most analysts believe moves will be cautious to avoid hitting economic growth.
Investors are already concerned that the economy could lose momentum in coming months as local governments launch more stringent measures to cool heated property prices.
“Market risk appetites could continue to decline if financial regulation keeps tightening,” said Gao Ting, Head of China Strategy at UBS Securities.
“Investors seem to mostly be responding by adjusting their positions, particularly by rotating into high-quality blue-chips.”
Banking is the only main sector that ended the morning in positive territory, while small-caps suffered massive sell-offs, with an index tracking start-up stocks falling nearly 2 percent.
In Hong Kong, stocks dipped slightly, with the bearish sentiment from China largely neutralized after the market’s favored candidate won through the first round of the French election, reducing the risk of a Brexit-like shock.
The Hang Seng index dropped 0.1 percent to 24,016.23 points, while the Hong Kong China Enterprises Index was unchanged at 10,045.78.
“If you get rid of Dodd-Frank, it’s going to have a very significant positive impact on the economy,” he said on “Squawk on the Street,” from the sidelines of the IMF–World Bank meeting of finance ministers in Washington.
“In my judgment, that’s where the surge in the stock prices has come from. It’s very difficult to find anything other than that, which I find really positive,” argued Greenspan, who served nearly two decades as Fed chairman from 1987 to 2006.
In February, President Donald Trump ordered the Treasury and other financial regulators to review the banking and consumer finance rules created under Dodd-Frank, the 2010 law crafted in response to the financial crisis two years earlier.
The tighter rules aimed at preventing taxpayers from having to bailout “too big to fail” banks in the future included higher rainy day capital requirements, which critics say stifle lending and hurt economic growth.