What Is Space Debris?
What is Space Debris?
Space debris, also known as orbital debris, is anything orbiting Earth that is not considered useful, commonly taking the form of nonoperational satellites or detached parts, spent launch vehicles, and naturally occurring meteoroids.
Most commonly occupying Lower Earth Orbit (LEO), currently, there are over 29,000 trackable large pieces of debris, with a further estimated 129 million debris pieces which are too small to be tracked using current technology.
Why is it Important?
This debris is orbiting at speeds of over 7 kilometers per second. A hypervelocity collision between two large pieces will inject hundreds of thousands of new debris pieces into orbit, which can then propagate in a cascading effect to cause even more collisions.
This effect was first observed in the 2009 collision between satellites Iridium 33 and Cosmos-2251, which created over 2000 new pieces of debris.
If left untouched, the debris population will eventually cascade out of control. This will result in popular orbits rendered useless, halting common services and even preventing humans from leaving the planet.
How Can We Prevent Collisions?
In good conscience, some countries require satellites operating in LEO to be deorbited within 25 years after mission end. This is commonly done through end-of-life removal systems or naturally occurring orbital decay. Occasionally these systems fail, or are not used in exchange for extending the satellites operational life. Without strict laws and accountability, the number of satellites in orbit will continue to grow, in turn increasing the potential of future collisions.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has estimated that the removal of 10-15 of the high-risk pieces of debris each year could be enough to prevent collisions, and maintain a stable orbital debris population.
Here at Obruta Space Solutions, we aim to tackle the problem of space debris through both our active and end-of-life orbital removal solutions. Though preventing future satellite collisions, we can maintaining a safe LEO environment which will help enrich everyone's life down here on the ground.
Want to learn more about space debris? Follow the links below for further reading on the topic and how it is being combated around the world.
- Stuff in Space: Visualize and Interact with the Orbital Debris Environment
- The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee Website
- NASA Orbital Debris Program Office
- NASA Headquarters Library Space Debris Policies, Books, & Resources
- European Space Agency (ESA) Space Debris News Archive
- Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Article: Solving the Problem of Space Debris (2017)