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Space Junk Facts

Environment | 6-12 yrs | Reading Pod

Currently, a thick band of levitating space junk —composed primarily of broken satellite pieces and discarded rocket boosters—skirts the Earth. Two or three times a day, a satellite circling our planet narrowly misses a torrent of the orbital debris. This phenomenon has jeopardized not only current space travelers, but future missions as well.

What is space junk?

Space junk or space debris is any natural or man made particle which surrounds the Earth. Natural particles such as meteoroids orbit the sun, while most artificial debris orbits the Earth. This article looks at artificial or man made debris, also known as orbital debris.

What is space junk made of?

Orbital debris consists of any parts of nonfunctional spacecrafts, abandoned vehicles of launch stages, paint flakes, loose fragments from rocket explosions, among other things. It can also include mission related debris such as objects lost during spacewalks.

Is space junk dangerous?

Space junk alone is not dangerous, until it colides with a satellite or spacecraft. The pieces of debris can travel at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour – which is fast enough for even a small piece of debris to cause damage. Even tiny flecks of paint can cause damage to a spacecraft at this speed.

Can the debris be tracked?

Larger pieces of debris – those that are between the size of a marble and a softball, can be tracked as they orbit the Earth. However, there are millions of manmade particles, too small to be tracked, orbiting the Earth.

Can we limit our waste disposal in space?

Faced with this scenario, as early as the 1980s NASA and other groups within the U.S. attempted to limit the growth of debris. One particularly effective solution was implemented by McDonnell Douglas on the Delta booster, by having the booster move away from their payload and then venting any remaining fuel in the tanks. This eliminated the pressure build-up in the tanks that had caused them to explode in the past. Other countries, however, were not as quick to adopt this sort of measure, and the problem continued to grow throughout the 1980s, especially due to a large number of launches in the Soviet Union.