Space Junk

From GPS to Dish TV, Satellites are used in everyday life.

Space junk is a growing concern in the aerospace industry, but this environmental challenge is not as widely publicized as the future effects would warrant it to be. In 2013, NASA claimed they were tracking more than 500,000 pieces of space junk orbiting our planet, and can only track objects down to the size of a couple centimeters across. Debris ranges from the size of paint flecks only fractions of a millimeter wide to large spent rocket bodies that orbit uncontrollably around the Earth.

This junk is traveling at enormous speeds of approximately 17,500 miles per hour! That’s fast! At these speeds even small pieces such paint flecks or bolts can do a considerable amount of damage.

Devin Saunders, Chief Writer Covering Space, Engineering & National Security

Why is this such a problem? While there are many problems, Kessler Syndrome is a massive one. Basically, even a small piece of debris because of its high speed could incapacitate a satellite during a collision. Since collisions cause increasingly more debris, exponential growth occurs until the orbital altitude is unusable. This would make it impossible to put satellites into debris-filled orbits and it  is dangerous to attempt to launch satellites into higher orbits.

While the Department of Defense and other space agencies are advancing how to track debris, there is still no feasible way to remove the junk from Earth’s orbit. The only option is waiting for them to fall back into the atmosphere, but this takes months for even large pieces of debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and can be on the order of centuries for objects in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO).

This means that every satellite, rocket, or space shuttle part we send into Space must be carefully planned. Not just by the United States, but also among all governments.