Why the Space Junk Problem Is Going to Get A Lot Worse

Low-Earth orbit is already filled with millions of pieces of debris.

August 2, 2017 5:00 am

Space is the final frontier for humanity and its trash.

Space junk—a collective name for old satellites, spent rockets, and fragments— is a headache for space missions and it’s only going to get worse in the next decade.

The area just beyond Earth’s atmosphere where space stations and satellites operate, known as low-Earth orbit, is already filled with millions of space junk pieces. It’s so crowded that orbiting detritus is crashing into each other splintering into smaller pieces of floating garbage, a phenomenon called the Kessler Syndrome.

Thousand of satellites are planned for launch by 2025, which means low-Earth orbit is about to get a lot more crowded. That’s a tenfold increase in the number of active satellites currently, according to Wired. An internationally-agreement makes companies and governments launching new satellites to be responsible for bringing them back down, but there’s already a lot up there.

NASA and the military have systems tracking 24,000 orbiting objects as small as ten centimeters. That misses the smaller pieces of junk and new satellites that can be as small as 3.5 centimeters, Wired reports. SpaceX, for instance, is planning to launch 12,000 of these smaller satellites to beam Internet back down to Earth.

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