A few questions about space, mechanics and scientific creativity

Cosmos is an unknown, mysterious space for man. But even from there can come a threat. In our time, the problem of space debris is very acute, because it can radically change the “relationship” with the cosmos. In order to better understand the problem and assess its scale, I turned to a person who is well versed in this area, prof. Vladimir  Aslanov, the head of the Department of Theoretical Mechanics at the Samara Korolev National Research University.

Tell us a little about yourself.

The area of ​​my interests is wide: these are classical problems of theoretical mechanics, and modern problems of the motion of bodies in space. We are currently working on modeling and analyzing situations related to the removal of space debris. Space debris – these are broken old satellites, the upper stages of rockets and their fragments, or, more simply, debris. Space debris in the near future is a threat to all mankind, but not so far in the sense of the destruction of earthly civilization, but in the sense that humanity can remain without space. There will be no global connection, including mobile, there will be nothing that is realized through space. There will be no space flights, and humanity will be forced to exist in the captivity of the earth’s atmosphere.

Why such a gloomy forecast?

About 30 years ago, Donald Kessler formulated the effect as the development of avalanche-like events in near-earth orbit, associated with collisions of space objects, which lead to the complete unsuitability of space for practical use. Proof of the validity of the Kessler effect are at least two known cases. In 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite weapon test when an old weather satellite was hit by a rocket. As a result, almost 3.5 thousand new fragments were added to 10.5 thousand units of space debris larger than 10 cm in size at that time in space. By the way, all such objects are constantly monitored. The second case occurred as a result of the collision in 2009 of the Soviet satellite “Cosmos 2251” with the American satellite “Iridium 33”. This event added about 2 thousand large fragments and more than 60 thousand fragments less than 10 cm in size.
If we consider that the speed of collision of fragments with any space objects reaches 15 km / s (54 thousand km / h) and more, then you can imagine what a serious threat this is. And second, if space debris is at an altitude of 1000 km, then only after 1500 years this debris will fall to Earth, and if the object is in geostationary orbit, it is 36.6 thousand km and the orbital period is 24 hours, then its time there is infinity.

What directions and ways to deal with this problem do you single out?

We are developing ways to remove space debris using cabled towing of large objects, as well as contactless ways to remove debris. By means of a cable and a harpoon, debris can be taken away only from low orbits, whose height is less than 1000 km. The contactless method realized by the electrostatic interaction of the space tractor and space debris, from the point of view of energy costs, it is advisable to use in high orbits. In this case, the garbage is taken away not to the surface of the Earth, but to the so-called burial orbit, which is located 200 km above the geostationary orbit.
Recently, we have proposed a completely new way of clearing the geostationary orbit using gravitational capture. My article, published this year on this topic in a scientific journal, has already aroused the interest of world scientists.
In all these areas, scientists of the Samara University’s scientific school are among the world leaders, thanks to dozens of our articles and two monographs published in the largest publishing houses in the world.

Do you practice your projects?

We do not create spacecraft, we create software for the implementation of promising space programs, lay the groundwork for the future.
Can your books be understood by first-year students or are they more suitable for specialists?
The first course will be hard. Monographs are written mainly for graduate students, undergraduates and research workers. However, after the second course, when students to some extent study mathematics and mechanics, all this becomes available.
By the way, my last book (Rigid body dynamics for space applications, Elsevier, 2017) is in the library of our university, and I saw it in the hands of a 2nd year student.

Why are your books published in English?

The first book came out of nowhere. I had no plans to write a book. The publishing house Elsevier sent me a letter and offered to choose one of my scientific fields, indicating 5 new original ideas, thanks to which the book can be popular. This is a market. I fulfilled all the requirements and the book on space cable systems (Dynamics of Tethered Satellite Systems), written with my student Ledkov AS, was published in 2012.
Writing a second book was already a deliberate decision. I asked myself the question in which language to write the book, in Russian or English. What language will be more readers? The answer was obvious. Today there is no other language of scientific communication than English.

At what point did you start publishing in foreign publications?

In 2007, our university, thanks to the efforts of Rector Soifer V.A., gained access to the largest scientific base of Elsevier. It is difficult to describe my feelings at that moment: I realized that there is a lot of interesting things in the world and we are only a part of this big world. I saw a lot of new and interesting problems that we can solve and solve. My first article in English was published in 2009. An amazing review was written on it: “Only the poor English of the author did not allow us to immediately understand the beauty of ideas.” It was wonderful. The article was published, then it came out as part of a large book, which contains the best works in the world on contemporary problems of chaos. I have published about 80 articles in total in English.

How did you become successful in the West?

I understood, in my opinion, the main thing is how to write articles for an English-language magazine. In the USSR, and later in Russia, it was customary to write articles for oneself to be printed, and in the west the best authors write for the reader, first and foremost.
Writing articles in English is necessary only for yourself. I do not speak this language well, but I write well. A scientific article is built according to certain canons and rules. The process of writing an article is a craft, not an art.

What do you think is the main article?

The main thing in the article is a new modern idea, new knowledge.

Why did you decide to connect your life with teaching and science? Is it a childhood dream or a conscious decision?

A conscious decision to make at 17 years is quite difficult. My choice was the Kuibyshev Aviation Institute (KuAI), an aircraft mechanical engineer. KuAI was a very good technical institute, and, looking back, it can be said, there was always a lack of fundamental knowledge and an environment where new knowledge would be created. Much had to learn most at a later age.

Who did I feel? I have always been curious. And at the beginning of my journey, I felt like a scientist, and a small one. Further, about 15 years after the start of a working career, I realized that I was more a teacher than a scientist. Now everything has changed again. That is, I am again a scientist who, on the basis of his scientific knowledge, teaches students.

Is it easy to find a common language with students?

Very easy, especially when you like students. A student in high school, first of all, a person. I try to be closer to them, and I try to do everything for them. Students need to love and protect, and then they will answer the same.

How is the idea born?

I am a bad reader and, in fact, more of a writer. Sometimes it is difficult to read something long and tedious, especially in English. I myself think so, and it turns out that sometimes some of my ideas contradict the established concepts, become new and original. New thoughts come often when communicating with students, with free discussion in open seminars.

Do you have a favorite area / subject of research?

I can not long deal with the same problem. My “term” is 5-7 years. 7 years is the limit. The latest, the newest is the most favorite.

That is, for you the main thing is to generate an idea?

Yes, the details are not interesting to me, it is not mine. I want to catch as much as possible and leave something behind.

Natalia Zdrazhevskaya