The Space Junk Problem: A Growing Problem for a Space Faring Civilization

Category Science

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Humans are creating massive amounts of space debris with our current and future space missions. Various strategies have been proposed in order to reduce the amount of potentially hazardous objects in space, though an efficient and sustainable solution is needed in order to avoid the dangerous Kessler Syndrome scenario from happening.

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They have about 30 milligrams of spherule material as of now. Based on the energy radiated from IM1’s fireball and the measured IM1’s speed, one can infer the mass of material entrained in the fireball to be about 500 kilograms. If we end up retrieving 50 milligrams over the remaining 3 days of the expedition, the total mass we collect would constitute one part in ten million of the fireball’s debris mass.

The Kessler Syndrome, a scenario in which the amount of space debris is so high that it causes a chain reaction of collisions, was first proposed in 1978 by Nasa scientist Donald Kessler.

Humans makes tens of billions of tons of garbage and pollution every year. A space faring civilization that fully occupies one solar system would produce millions of times more garbage and junk than we do every year. We have only sent up a few thousand satellites and already have millions of bits of space debris. Modern and future space missions will only place more debris into orbit unless we start taking more measures to manage and de-orbit space junk. Disposing of material runoff and technological waste is a difficult and expensive process, especially given the harsh environment of space and its countless unknowns, so developing sustainable practices and including them in all future missions is essential to preserving the integrity of space exploration.

Over the last 50 years, Earth's orbit has been littered with millions of pieces of space junk, debris left over from launches, collisions and failed experiments.

A wide variety of strategies have been proposed to reduce the number of potentially hazardous objects in space. Procedures like debris removal or active propulsion could be used to de-orbit objects or push them away from functional orbits. New materials and propellants could help spacecraft shed their mass more efficiently with less left over debris. Proper system engineering and avoidance maneuvers could be used to minimize chances of collision. Additionally, some international organizations argue for a strict international code of conduct, prohibiting reckless use of space as bombs and weapons.

The world's largest single piece of space debris is Envisat, a defunct Earth-observing satellite that weighed 8,150 kg when it launched in 2002.

The creation of space junk is a serious issue for a space faring civilization. We must find a solution that efficiently and sustainably deal with the large trash buildup posed by current and future space faring civilizations, or else risk the possibility of the Kessler Syndrome becoming a reality.

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