Close this search box.

Clearing the Clutter: Addressing the Issue of Debris in Space

Since the 1957 Sputnik satellite launched by the Soviet Union, several satellites have littered Earth’s lower orbit over the past few decades. From astronauts’ screwdrivers to dead satellites, thousands of items constitute debris in space. Has this space junk reached a dangerous quantity? Does space debris pose any risk to our planet? Is there a way to excavate these unwanted items? Here are the answers.

What is space debris?

Space is getting crowded due to the many exploration missions humans have undertaken. The objects crowding outer space are what we call space debris. So, in plain words, space debris is any man-made object larger than 10 cm that serves no purpose in space. 

Courtesy: MIT News

According to NASA, there are over 26,000 ‘junk’ items in space. These items include fragments of decaying spacecraft, rocket bodies, old satellites, and other random items forgotten by astronauts. The high quantity of these items is quite worrisome.

Expended rocket stages

One of the most significant junk items in space is wasted rocket stages. You’re probably wondering how a rocket stage can become debris in space. Well, you’re about to discover that.

When rockets launch, they commonly discard upper stages that have their own propellant and engines. These stages may burn up in the atmosphere, fall to Earth, or become space junk. In total, there are about a thousand rocket stages in space.

Perished satellites

While it’s true that satellites in space offer us many benefits, they are also a part of the space junk problem. Just like living things, satellites become useless after a long while. While some satellites stop working due to a fault, others run.

Courtesy: TASS

There are about 1,800 perished satellites in space. The issue is that we can’t ‘sweep’ off these perished satellites. Due to their large sizes, these giant satellites may cause astronauts to encounter accidents.

Random Fragments

As the name implies, random fragments are those items that astronauts mistakenly left in space. As mentioned earlier, even the tiniest of these fragments, like a nut, can do significant damage in space. 

Astronauts have dropped random fragments like a spatula, a camera lens cap, a screwdriver, etc. Since these fragments have nowhere to go, they just keep moving around- the lack of gravity makes it impossible for them to stay on the floor.

Clearing the mess

If left the way it is, the increasing quantity of space junk can negatively affect sensitive satellites and also render space polluted and unsafe for human voyages. So, what steps can be taken to tackle this issue?

Courtesy: The Daily Beast

The dead satellites can be repaired or refueled to allow them to last longer in space. Another tenable alternative is to ‘pull’ larger junk items from space with a capable spacecraft. The bottom line is that it has to be an international endeavor.

Sign up for Spaceloration Newsletter

Related Posts