Space is littered with stages of launch vehicles when separated out, dead satellites, waste from astronaut’s suit, waste from International space station, equipment slipped by astronauts, growing occupants- CubeSats, the residue of rockets etc.

In 1983, space shuttle Challenger’s windshield was cracked by a piece of space wreck. Moreover, more than 500,000 space debris dispersed pieces orbiting the earth at 17,500 miles per hour. A tiny screw travelling at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour can evoke a catastrophic failure of any active satellite or rocket i.e if velocity is doubled then kinetic energy increases four times. The dangerously congested population of space thrash varies in sizes from 1 mm to 1 cm diameter objects are 106 million, 1cm to 10 cm diameter objects are 750,000, more than 10 cm diameter objects are 29000. The average distance between two wreckage is 190 km.

In 1978, Donal J. Kessler proposed ‘The Kessler syndrome’. The sprouting amount of space junk has an impact potential of rising higher risk of collisions in lower earth orbit. It is absurd to get telecommunication and metrological satellites orbiting geosynchronous path back on earth. Therefore, full stop on space explorations. No manned missions, no weather forecasting, no communication systems, no internet services, no global positioning system, no more research probe etc.

Accidental collisions occurred:-

  • July 24, 1996, French microsatellite CERISE hit ORIANE rocket.
  • February 10, 2009, Russia’s dead military communication satellite COSMOS 2251 collided with IRIDIUM 33.
  • January 11, 2007, the Chinese military launched an anti-satellite missile which completely demolished FENG YUN 1C, old weather satellite into more than 4000 remnants.
  • In 2014, International Space Station was relocated thrice due to the threat of contingent smashing with space debris.

Interagency Space Debris coordination committee, working on multiple projects

  • Remote control robot Justin for spacewalk and exoskeleton suit.
  • Space fence with optical sensors to keep an eye on 10 cm diameter objects.
  • Electromagnetic net capturing debris, dragging them back to earth’s atmosphere and gradually obliterates due to friction.
  • Ejecting laser beams to targeted debris.

88 thoughts on “THE GRAVEYARD ORBIT: Space debris

  1. We don’t often read or hear about this mounting problem in space. But, with each small particle a potential deadly encounter for equipment and crews, we must expend the time and resources to find a way to manage the inevitable space junk. Great article putting a complex problem in concise language. We’ve manage to create a vast circling garbage pile in the ocean, huge landfills on land and the final frontier for our littering ways is space and we have filled our space with junk too. Archeologists of the far future won’t have to work too hard to figure out that littering was our most prolific contribution.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Well written, on a topic that deserves attention. Though, the image that you used to represent the debris is a little misleading. The condition isn’t that bad yet, but it will be if necessary actions are not taken. Otherwise, it’s a well written text. Keep it up.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I know! I love the initiative that Elon Musk took, bringing back his Falcon 9 on Earth after every launch. Saves money and space

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Interestingly enough, the sun sweeps our Earth’s space debris every eleven years, so-to-speak. Its cycle includes a brighter bit once during that period, heats the Earth more which then bulges our atmosphere in such a way that it creates just enough drag for a lot of stuff to come crashing back into a death-spiral orbit into the atmosphere. So 2024 ought to be a good year for shooting stars, you’d think.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. If there is so much space debris in earths orbit, why is none of it visible? I understand how small it would appear given the distance between the debris and someone on earth looking up, but shouldn’t there be something visible?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It would be really sad if we reach a point where we can no longer safely launch into space. I know there are some people working on a solution to de-orbit some of the junk up there. Hopefully a solution will be forthcoming.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This just hurts my soul… we pollute and destroy so carelessly and thoughtlessly. I’ve read a bit about this here and there and always wonder why we can’t see any of it. It must be tiny enough to where it’s just not visible.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Eek Gads! I was thinking about stowing away on one of possible Moon excursions. But now, knowing what you’ve shared, I could end up regretting even the thought of it, much like past stowaways on the Titanic. Boo hiss!

    Liked by 1 person

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