Space exploration has opened a world of possibilities and has enabled humans to achieve unimaginable feats. However, with every milestone comes a new problem, and the problem of space debris or space junk is no different. In this research paper, we will discuss the problem of space junk and how it can cause us problems in the future.
What is Space Junk?
Space junk, also known as space debris, refers to man-made objects in orbit around the Earth that no longer serve a purpose. These objects range from tiny fragments of debris to defunct satellites and rockets. According to NASA, there are over 26,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 cm in orbit around the Earth, and millions of smaller pieces that cannot be tracked. The debris in orbit is traveling at high speeds of up to 28,000 kilometers per hour, making it a significant threat to active satellites and spacecraft.
How does Space Junk Affect Us?
The increasing amount of space debris poses a significant threat to our satellites and spacecraft. Satellites are essential for communication, navigation, and weather forecasting, and they are also used for national security purposes. Spacecraft are used for exploring space, studying the Earth, and conducting scientific experiments. The debris in orbit poses a threat to these critical systems, and a collision with space junk could cause significant damage or even destruction.
The problem of space debris has become so severe that some experts have started to refer to it as the “Kessler Syndrome.” This theory proposes that as more debris is created, collisions between objects will become more frequent, creating a cascade of collisions that will generate even more debris, making the situation even worse. This cycle of collisions could eventually make space travel impossible due to the high risk of collision.
In addition to the risk of collisions, space debris also poses a significant threat to human life on Earth. As objects re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they can pose a risk to people on the ground. In 1979, the Skylab space station re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, and debris fell over Western Australia. Fortunately, no one was injured, but it served as a reminder of the potential dangers of space debris.
The Future of Space Junk:
The problem of space debris is only going to get worse as more countries enter the space race and launch more satellites and spacecraft. In addition, the growing popularity of satellite constellations, such as SpaceX’s Starlink, means that the number of satellites in orbit will increase exponentially in the coming years. This will create a greater risk of collisions and make it even more challenging to ensure the safety of our critical systems in space.
The potential dangers of space debris have led to calls for more active debris removal efforts. There are currently several proposals for removing debris from orbit, including using lasers to vaporize small debris or capturing larger objects with robotic arms. However, these methods are still in the experimental stage, and it will take time to develop the technology and infrastructure needed to make them viable.
The problem of space debris is a significant threat to our critical systems in space and to human life on Earth. The increasing amount of debris in orbit creates a greater risk of collisions, which could have catastrophic consequences. It is essential that we continue to develop technologies to remove debris from orbit and ensure the safety of our critical systems in space. As we continue to explore space and push the boundaries of human knowledge, we must also take responsibility for the debris we create and take steps to protect our planet and the future of space exploration.
- NASA. “Orbital Debris FAQs.” NASA, 2022, https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/orbitaldebris/faqs/index.html.
- Kessler, Donald J., and Burton G. Cour-Palais. “Collision Frequency of Artificial Satellites. The Creation of a Debris Belt.” Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 83, no. A6, 1978, pp. 2637-2646. https://doi.org/10.1029/JA083iA06p02637.
- European Space Agency. “Space Debris.” European Space Agency, 2022, https://www.esa.int/Safety_Security/Space_Debris.
- Gorman, Edward. “The Growing Problem of Space Junk.” Scientific American, 12 Mar. 2018, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-growing-problem-of-space-junk/.
- United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. “Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.” United Nations, 2019, https://www.unoosa.org/documents/pdf/spacelaw/sd/Space_Debris_Mitigation_Guidelines_English.pdf.