Space junk is a growing concern
Space junk has become a growing concern in recent years. Comprised of both natural and artificial or man-made particles, more than 500,000 pieces of debris or space junk are orbiting around the Earth today.
That debris is traveling at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour, which is fast enough to damage a satellite or spacecraft. The International Space Station once had a bullet-sized hole punched through its solar panels when a piece of space debris collided with it. In July, the Space Station needed to change its orbit slightly in order to avoid a piece of debris.
NASA takes space debris issue very seriously and currently tracks debris larger than a softball using ground based sensors and inspection of returned satellites.
The junk mostly comes from used rocket parts that after they deliver their payloads simply float off into whatever orbit they happen to find themselves, satellites, collisions between objects and other random objects. It also tracks objects the size of a marble. But there are millions of other objects that are just too small to monitor.
A Chinese missile test in 2007 produced more than 2,000 pieces of debris alone.
“The greatest risk to space missions comes from non-trackable debris.” Nicholas Johnson, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris said in a statement.
Space agencies need to ensure clear space when launching rockets. Various endeavors have been proposed to clear up this growing mess. It’s possible that companies like SpaceX will eventually make reusable rockets a reality, potentially reducing the number of spent rocket bodies in orbit.