Space junk, otherwise known as space debris is a real threat that shouldn’t be ignored as it has really serious consequences on our ability to use space in the future. In this article, we take a small step and take a small glimpse at the issue at hand, how it affects spacecraft, and how it can be solved.
What is Space Junk?
Space Junk, otherwise known as space debris, is said to encompass both small natural and artificial particles floating in space. Sometimes referred to as Micrometeroid and Orbital Debris, these objects represent a risk to spacecraft. Orbital debris refers to any man-made object orbiting the Earth which no longer serves a useful function.
There are estimated to be over 128 million pieces of debris smaller than 1 cm as of January 2019. There are approximately 900,000 pieces from one to ten cm. The current count of large debris, which is defined as 10 cm across or larger, is 34,000. The technical measurement cutoff is c. 3 mm (0.12 in).
How is Space Junk created?
- A source of debris that has been tracked for a while is the remains of anti-satellite weapons by the US and USSR, which has done in the 1960s and 1970s.
- Lost equipment is another area of concern as not all satellites remain in contact with their owners.
- Dead Spacecraft
Why is it important?
Space junk is a threat to active satellites and spaceships. It is very much possible that the Earth’s orbit may even become impassable as the risk of collision grows too high. This risk of collision has to be factored into missions such as manned and unmanned crafts.
The potential for issues has been named the Kessler syndrome, which is when a runaway chain reaction of collisions exponentially increases the amount of debris. Although not yet seen and has been hypothesized to ensue beyond a critical density, if it occurs it could affect useful polar-orbiting bands, increases the cost of protection for spacecraft missions and could destroy live satellites. Whether Kessler syndrome is already underway has been debated. The measurement, mitigation, and potential removal of debris are conducted by some participants in the space industry.
Potential Solutions To Issues Caused By Space Junk?
There are several options that have been floated around to resolve the issue.
- Growth mitigation
- External removal
- International regulation
However, as seen with humanity and ocean trash, the best option might be to externally remove the space junk through paying companies to extract it.
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