Space junk has reached a “tipping point” according to space experts. This means that it’s becoming harder and harder for spaceships to leave the earth as there’s quite simply so much in the way. There are 22,000 objects spinning in orbit that are big enough to be tracked, and numberless smaller ones. What’s up there will continue to bash into itself, creating ever more junk, according to a report (commissioned by NASA, from the US National Research Council, called “Limiting Future Collision Risk to Spacecraft: An Assessment of NASA’s Meteoroid and Orbital Debris Programs.” ) In 2007, China smashed a weather satellite, creating 150,000 bits of debris. In 2009, two satellites (one American and one Russian) crashed together over Siberia.
“Those two single events doubled the amount of fragments in Earth orbit and completely wiped out what we had done in the last 25 years,” said Donald Kessler, who wrote the report. There seems to be no acceptable way of getting rid of it. The Guardian reports that it might be a legal minefield, as currently restrictions mean that countries can only salvage their own objects.
- Cosmic umbrellas. It’s a “potentially catastrophic risk” to astronauts and the international space station, said The Daily Mail. We might, it continued, have to use giant cosmic versions of harpoons, nets, tethers, magnets and even a giant dish or umbrella-shaped device that would sweep up tiny pieces of debris.
“We’ve lost control of the environment,” said retired Nasa senior scientist Donald Kessler, who authored the report.
- We don’t have the technology. For years, said Konstantin Kakaes on Slate, we’ve been throwing our trash into space, and “now those cans are coming home to roost.” There’s so much rubbish that “even if everybody stops creating more (‘debris mitigation’), this runaway reaction will make low Earth orbit (roughly speaking, 100 to 1,000 miles above the planet’s surface) a very tough, and expensive, place to operate.” We need “debris remidiation.” Space has been hosting a “carnival of explosions.” To stop this, “we need to overcome two major obstacles. The first is that it’s a legal nightmare. The second is that we don’t even have the technology to do it.”
“We’ve filled outer space with the equivalent of a million little discarded Starbucks Doubleshot cans,” warned Gawker.
- Is it OK? As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, said Ezra Klein on The Washington Post. It will only get worse, as well. But don’t worry – according to experts on the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee’s web site “(yes, this exists)” – it’s manageable. “We might be able to shove the really troublesome chunks off into ‘graveyard orbit’ (22,000 miles away from the Earth). Or, alternatively, some of those old satellites contain a lot of valuable metal and parts, so someone could set up a galactic pawn shop to harvest old space trash.”
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