Records and Facts

Is Space becoming a Junk Yard?

Junk Yard Orbiting the Earth

Konica Auto S3 test shots (18) by brian395, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicensePhoto by  brian395

We have been in danger of experiencing the Kessler syndrome for quite some time now.  What is the Kessler syndrome you ask?  It’s where two objects in space collide with each other that creates a chain reaction causing other pieces to collide when hit by the debris.

There is currently so much of this space junk orbiting our planet that this is in fact a real danger.  If this were to happen, all the debris it would create in low orbit would wipe out all our satellites that are in orbit.

In hopes of preventing this, most defunct satellites are put into a higher orbit, known as a “graveyard” orbit.  This keeps them safely out of the way of lower orbit functional satellites.

There are many Soviet military and spy satellites from the 70’s already in a graveyard orbit due to being non-operational, although some malfunctioned and never made it to the graveyard orbit thus remain in lower orbit.  Two of these have crashed into the earth luckily with their radioactive material still in tact.  In 1978, one of these spread debris all across northern Canada and another fell into the Indian Ocean in 1983.

To go a little more current, in 2009, the first collision of 2 satellites occurred.  It was between an out-of-service Russian Space Forces satellite and an operating U.S. communications satellite.  They struck at more than 27.000 mile per hour.

There’s also other forms of space debris floating out there such as a glove that was lost by American astronaut Ed White during the first space walk.  Also a tool bag, pair of pliers, camera and a toothbrush all lost during other space walks that are drifting aimlessly above.

There was also a Chinese anti-satellite-missle test that created thousands of pieces of dangerous trash floating within a more densely populated orbit area.

There is currently an organization, the U.S. Space Surveillance Network that tracks eight thousand pieces of space debris.  They keep an eye on this stuff to make sure it will not become a threat.

If you’re wondering if anyone has ever been hit by any of this stuff falling from the sky, then the answer is yes!  In 2007 there was an Oklahoma woman hit by a piece of falling debris from a U.S. Air Force Delta II rocket that was launched a year earlier.  Luckily she was not injured during the incident.

So next time you take a look at the sky you may want to wear some goggles.  Or at least keep your eyes open, cos you never know what may come crashing down!

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