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JUST above Earth’s surface is a disc of space debris hurtling through space at speeds high enough to do more than rattle the International Space Station.
Earth’s orbit is so cluttered with man-made and natural objects it could restrict space travel in the future.
Nasa and the United States Space Force have a network of sensors scanning the sky and keeping tabs on all 27,000 pieces of space larger than 10 centimeters.
Objects in Earth’s orbit travel at about 15,000 miles per hour – fast enough that if a small piece collided with a satellite or space ship it could do serious damage.
A Blue Origin engineer posted an image of an aluminum block that was nearly pulverized when a piece of space debris weighing less than an ounce collided with its broadside while in orbit.
CNET reported that the International Space Station (ISS) has to engage in about one evasive maneuver per year to avoid collisions with space junk.
Scientists have considered the threat that space trash poses to life on Earth and to our dreams of traveling space.
The Kessler Syndrome is a theory that Earth’s orbit will become so crowded that debris will just keep colliding, creating a field of space trash thick enough that we’re forced to ground space travel.
Elon Musk, one of space travel’s loudest proponents, has added more than 2,500 Starlink satellites to the disc of space debris gathering around Earth.
SpaceX plans to add up to 42,000 satellites to lower Earth orbit, much to the disappointment of astronomers.
China has tested a military satellite whose purpose is to clean up space junk – Space.com reported that because of the military nature of the mission, many details were kept under wraps.
But eagle-eyed stargazers found that the Shijan-21 satellite ferried another satellite to a safe distance of 3,000 kilometers away from Earth in a space junk “graveyard”.
Many of the space travel and space operations planned for the 21st century are in the hands of private companies instead of public agencies.
In the future, private companies may need to be held accountable for space litter, which is currently unregulated.