What is the risk from Space Debris? What is NASA doing about Space Debris? What is the Space-Based Surveillance System?

Objects in Low Earth Orbit
Objects in Low Earth Orbit | Source

Concern is growing about the amount of "space debris" or "space junk" - defunct spacecraft, discarded pieces of rocket launching systems, and particles of liquid coolant - that is in orbit around the Earth. A recent report by NASA suggests that there about 500,000 objects that are centimeter-sized or larger in orbit, accompanied by over 10 million smaller fragments.

"The current space environment is growing increasingly hazardous to spacecraft and astronauts."

-Donald Kessler, NASA Orbital Debris Program.

The Risk

Even though many of the orbiting objects are tiny, they could still cause considerable damage to a satellite if they collided with it at speed. The momentum of a colliding object is the product of its mass and its speed. The more momentum the object has, the greater the impact of the collision. Most orbital collisions happen at high speed - typically around 10 km per second - so even a tiny fragment of rock or debris can spell disaster.

In addition to all the fragmented junk, the sheer density of satellites orbiting our planet is also beginning to cause a problem. In 2009, two satellites - one belonging to the US company Indium and the other a Russian satellite - collided above Siberia. Scientists warn of reaching a "tipping point", above which it is not safe to put any more satellites into orbit because the traffic orbiting the Earth is simply too high.

The Solutions

In 1993, a group of organisations from 12 countries came together to form the Inter-Agency Space Debris Co-ordination Committee. Their aim is to assess the problem of space debris and take steps to rectify it.

Monitoring and Collision Avoidance

The US Department of Defence, recognizing the danger posed to US satellites, spacecraft, and the International Space Station (ISS), commissioned the construction of a space surveillance and tracking system. The Space Based Surveillance System (SBSS) will use a network of satellites, combined with ground-based sensors, to keep track of the positions of satellites and other orbiting objects. If satellites are discovered to be on a collision course, their operators can use the satellites' boosters to move them out of harm's way.

Clean-Up

Several solutions have been proposed, including nets, giant magnets, or probes that could join onto large pieces of debris to steer them towards the atmosphere where they can burn up. However, all of these ideas are still in the early stages.

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Comments 3 comments

VENZKHVAM profile image

VENZKHVAM 5 years ago from Milk way galaxy, trying to find a more adventurous place in another galaxy with my great followers

YEAH IT SEEMS NASA IS PLANING EVEN FOR DUMPING THE ISS VERY SOON TO EARTH. BUT IS A MAJOR ISSUE IN THE SPACE. DONT KNOW WHAT IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN REALLY . PLEASE READ MY OTHER HUB ON MYSTERY OF UNIVERSE FOR OTHER SPACE DEVELOPMENTS


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 5 years ago

Interesting stuff TOPQUARK.Sadly this doesn't surprise me given how big an issue rubbish can be down here on terra firma were solutions are much more readily achievable. Any idea just how many satellites are currently orbiting the earth btw? How many have been launched in total?


Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

Could this debris be responsible for some of the changes in weather that earth has been experiencing?

I like the idea of burning the debris in atmosphere but I wonder how that too might affect the earth. For every action there is bound to be consequence!

Thank you for a very interesting hub.

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