Space Junk Chronicals
Since nineteen fifty seven. Humanity has been launching satellites into earth orbit. It's estimated in the last four years almost nine thousand satellites in total have put into orbit for the vast majority of space age. There was never a plan for what would be done with the satellites after their lifetime. They were launched without any thought as to how or if they could ever come down the nine thousand or so satellites. Five thousand are still in orbit. Two thousand our service in three thousand are dead. D satellites are usually quite large. They can vary in size from a bus to a box and they aren't the real problem when it comes to space junk the big problem is debris when you send up a rocket there's all sorts of miscellaneous parts on the upper stage of the rocket that holds the satellite. That will go into orbit with it. This can include metal panels bolts screws and even flakes of paint. You'd think that given how big spaces that space junk might not be a problem as douglas adams noted quote space is big really big. You won't believe how vastly hugely mind. Bogglingly big it is suppose you had a million pennies that would be enough to easily fit in a minivan. Now let's suppose you distributed those pennies all over the world including the ocean and antarctica. Each penny would have one hundred ninety. Seven square miles of space or a single penny would have a square which was fourteen by fourteen miles factor in that the lowest earth orbit is a sphere larger than the earth. And that there's a vertical dimension where we could put pennies at different elevations. Then it would seem that space junk was a big problem if the object just sat there. That's true it wouldn't be a problem however all that junk isn't just sitting there. It's orbiting earth at extremely high speeds. Any piece of space junk is probably travelling at at least seventeen thousand miles per hour when something is traveling that fast no matter how small it is it can cause a great deal of damage. Moreover everything is on a slightly different orbit that means over time these orbits can cross and the longer something remains in orbit the greater the odds that these past will eventually cross and that things will smash together some of the things which are floating around in space include two cameras that got away from astronauts players a screwdriver or wrench a full toolbag garbage bags a lens cap a spatula and microscopic flakes of rocket propellant and that is on top of all the rocket debris and dead satellites if a ship with astronauts were to be hit it could lead to the deaths of the crew if important satellite were to be hid it could lead to a loss of critical communications. Gps signals or observational capabilities. This isn't just a theoretical problem. There have been cases of collisions in space. The space shuttle headed many tiny impacts from debris in space on the seven space shuttle mission. In one thousand. Nine hundred three. The front windshield was hit by a fleck of paint which damaged the window. It looked very similar to what happens when a rocket. your windshield damage. To the shuttle's he tiles was so common that the eventually began flying the shuttle backwards in space so that the engines which weren't used during re entry took most of the damage. The shuttle endeavour was hit by an object so large that its radiator looked like it was hit with a bullet. The international space station has to move on average at least once a year to avoid space debris the soviet cosmos twelve. Seventy five satellite was hit by an object in one thousand nine hundred eighty one which was believed to be the first case of a satellite being destroyed by space junk. Perhaps the worst case occurred in two thousand nine when the kosmos twenty fifty one satellite which was dead smashed into the iridium thirty three satellite at a relative speed of twenty six thousand miles per hour. These collisions and there have been several more only make things worse. In the first case three hundred objects were created from the collision in the second there were suddenly thousands of new objects thrown off on different trajectories in orbit in two thousand seven. The chinese government didn't anti-satellite missile test. That blew up a satellite in space creating tens of thousands of pieces of debris this problem of junk causing collisions which then creates exponentially more junk risk. Something called the kessler syndrome. This hypothesized in nineteen seventy eight by nasa. Scientists david kessler. He proposed that collisions could start a cascade of debris which would cause more collisions and even more debris rinse and repeat.