Mankind might have made rapid strides in space research, but space debris accumulated over the years, is becoming a growing headache for rocket-launching nations. To say that space debris is a menace for spacecraft and active satellites would be an understatement. It can cause impacts and generate even more debris once active rockets or satellites and their disused predecessors collide —spreading even more space junk through Earth’s orbit. The debris can include decommissioned satellites, broken spacecraft, spent rocket stages and fragments left from previous impacts of machines.
No wonder, as soon as a rocket carrying satellites makes it way into the sky, scientists monitoring its progress from the ground stations keep their fingers crossed, hoping that their years of hard work will not become the casualty of an accidental mishap in space. An example of a collision is that of the 2009 US satellite Iridium-33 explosion upon impact with the abandoned Russian satellite Cosmos-2251.
Just to give you a glimpse of this growing problem, ground-based radar systems have recorded about 21,000 individual scraps of junk over the years, much of it still up there. US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Orbital Space Observatory keeps a tab on the distribution of space debris. It estimates that more than 18,000 chunks of junk larger than 10 centimetres across are hurtling around the planet at thousands of kilometres an hour. The fragments of failed spacecraft, redundant satellites and spent booster rockets are accompanied by hundreds of thousands of smaller scraps of man-made space shrapnel, some with the potential to penetrate or destroy a functioning vessel.
The moot point is this: Space has become a giant dumping ground for jettisoned components and derelict spacecraft. And, the world’s space agencies—which between them launch roughly 120 spacecraft a year—need to find ways of clearing up the junk otherwise manned missions to the Moon and Mars, and the robotic exploration of outer space, may be at risk of colliding with space junk.
A new study carried out by Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee says that there are some satellite orbits which will become extremely hazardous over the next 200 years