Space Debris – Litter In The Cosmos

Space Debris
Image Source: Space Debris

We would have never thought that there would come a time when, not only our planet, but the space itself would start to become polluted by us. But do you know that our beloved Earth is getting covered by a blanket of billions of human-made chunks of space debris?

Well, space debris is a collection of useless objects that are in orbit around the Earth. These include broken satellites or satellites that have reached the end of their life, rocket stages that have launched satellites into space, pieces of metal, discarded rocket parts, bolts and other launch hardware. Not only this but collisions between chunks of space junk over the years, too, have contributed in increasing space debris.

According to NASA’s estimate, more than 100 million human-made objects the size of a grain of salt are orbiting the planet. Additionally, about 500,000 objects roughly the size of a marble and 23,000 objects the size of a softball or larger are also polluting the orbit.

The main worry regarding space debris is their possible collision with active or functioning satellites or spacecrafts.

Among the 100 million pieces of debris, the ones that are larger than 5 cm are capable of doing significant damage. However, it is the debris that is over 10 cm (3.9 inches) that are extremely dangerous. In order to be safe from such large pieces of junk, the spacecrafts have to stay out of their way to avoid collision. If a collision occurs, there might be additional resulting fragments. Any fragments over 1 kg (2.2 lb.) can become an additional collision risk. Scientists predict that such collisions will create more junk and trigger a chain reaction in the future.

What would happen if a collision occurred?

Well if any functional satellite is hit by a piece of space debris, it would either be severely damaged or completely destroyed. And if that happens to even just a few major satellites, then life here on Earth would be drastically affected by it. Live television broadcasts, the internet, GPS, and even your mobile phones and cellular services could be affected!

What is being done to avoid collision?

To avoid any potential collision, the space debris is constantly monitored from Earth and even aboard the International Space Station (ISS), with changes in its orbit occurring almost regularly. There are times, however, when space debris is noticed too late for the ISS to be moved in time. In these types of tense situations, all the astronauts have to make their way to the emergency shelter areas and sit out the impact. Keeping in mind that even a minor change in position takes days to complete, the International Space Station had to be moved three times in 2014 in order to avoid a potentially catastrophic and deadly collision with space junk!

We have created trouble for ourselves in the space also.  If no way is found to suspend this ever-growing amount of dead, human-made space debris floating around our planet, then it is predicted that in only a few hundred years, we will essentially be trapped on Earth, with space missions being impossible to launch due to almost certain collision and loss of life. There even might be a real possibility of a large piece of space junk re-entering the atmosphere and not burning up, becoming a meteor dashing toward the ground!

The amount of gadgets and even life-saving devices utilized by many people on Earth today as a by-product of space exploration is enormous. Should we ever stop pushing to explore space simply because it is no longer a possibility, how many future developments might humanity miss out on?