How Much Space Debris Is There?

How Much Space Debris Is There?

Debris-GEO1280 NASA.jpg

Debris in space is a problem. Even tiny bits of debris can cause big damage to spacecrafts and satellites. This is because the debris is moving so fast in orbit. The first major collision in 2009 between two satellites hit at 26,170 miles per hour.

The image above shows space objects that are being tracked at the moment. 95% of the dots are space debris. Scientists estimated there to be about 29,000 objects larger than 10cm, 670,000 larger than 1cm and 170 million above 1mm. Any of these could damage a spacecraft.

Image credit: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office

The Kessler Syndrome

The problem with space debris is that the more of it there is the greater chance for more impacts. This generates even more debris and eventually it all starts to get out of control. The debris increases at a rate faster than it is being destroyed. This means all satellites become endangered and their lifespan could be measured by weeks not years. This is called the Kessler syndrome and is why removal of space debris is becoming a priority for space agencies and businesses.

In April hundreds of scientists gathered to discuss ways to clean up our nearby space. The picture below shows a defunct satellite being grasped and pulled into Earth's atmosphere in order for it to burn up safely. This is one of the ideas to help control space debris.

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Image credit: ESA/Mixed-Reality Communication GmbH

Let's hope that the debris can be controlled as too much may stop space travel and the use of satellites for many years.

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