Why space debris is dangerous and what it is

(ORDO NEWS) — Now more and more often you can hear disturbing arguments that humanity is threatened by another garbage crisis – only not on the planet itself, but in its orbit.

Space debris has long turned from a theoretical danger into a harsh reality that casts a shadow on all future plans for space exploration. We tell what space debris is and why it causes concern.

What is space debris

Space debris is a variety of solid waste that has accumulated in low Earth orbit over decades of space exploration.

Among them, there are separated stages of launch vehicles, fragments of all kinds of satellites and spacecraft, fragments of engines. In other words, almost everything that gets into orbit with the help of a person, sooner or later turns into garbage.

It is important to note that there is much more such debris in space than you might think. RBC Trends writes that, according to rough estimates, more than 100 million pieces of trash are now revolving around the planet.

And this is just what can still be somehow detected by observation: small (less than 1 mm) debris particles are difficult to track, although their number has long gone into trillions.

Why is space debris dangerous?

Statements that humanity needs to address the garbage problem in space as soon as possible sound for several reasons. First, space debris poses a serious threat to satellites.

Due to the extremely high speed of movement, even a tiny object (no more than a centimeter) can critically damage any apparatus or orbital station.

Larger fragments can easily blow the satellite to pieces on impact, creating even more potentially hazardous debris. Of course, experts try to track the movement of such objects, but this hardly solves the problem.

Secondly, experts fear that in the end, humanity will clog the near-Earth orbit so much that the launch of new satellites will be physically impossible.

This unfortunate outcome may be due to the so-called Kessler syndrome, which says that each release of space debris sets off a chain reaction and creates new debris – and so on ad infinitum. Some researchers even believe that the first symptoms of the syndrome are already observed in certain areas of the orbit.

How to deal with space debris

Despite the fact that the future of the garbage crisis began to speak in the middle of the last century, space agencies have not yet found a practical way to clean the orbit of artificial waste.

Current technologies in theory make it possible to screen out fairly large objects, but if we talk about small debris, then there is no working solution yet.

Against this background, many companies are implementing preventive measures to significantly reduce waste emissions.

So, for example, about a third of spacecraft that have served their time are taken to a special disposal orbit: there they gradually lose altitude and burn out without a trace in the dense layers of the atmosphere.

Many satellites are equipped with additional armor protection specifically so that a stray piece of garbage does not split the device into many new fragments.

As for the various engines, they are sometimes drained of fuel so that a crashed piece of debris does not cause an explosion: otherwise, a whole cloud of small untracked particles will arise.

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