What Is Space Debris?
What is Space Debris?
Space debris, also known as orbital debris, is anything orbiting Earth that is not considered useful. These objects commonly take the form of nonoperational satellites, detached parts, spent launch vehicles, and naturally occurring meteoroids.
Globally, there are over 22,000 tracked pieces of debris. These objects are most commonly found occupying Lower Earth Orbit (LEO). Beyond what is seen, statistical estimates predict that there are roughly 128 million debris pieces which are too small to be tracked using current technology.
Why Should You Care About It?
Space debris orbits at an average speed of 7 kilometers per second. A hypervelocity collision between two large pieces will inject hundreds-to-thousands of new debris pieces into orbit. These new debris pieces can then go on to create their own collisions, causing a cascading effect to eventually render orbits useless to humans.
A large generation of debris was first observed in the 2009 collision between satellites Iridium 33 and Cosmos-2251, which created over 2000 new pieces of debris.
If left untouched, the debris population will eventually cascade out of control. This will result in popular orbits rendered useless, halting common services like Internet or GPS, and even preventing humans from leaving the planet!
How Can We Prevent Collisions?
In good conscience, some countries require satellites operating in LEO to be deorbited within 25 years after the satellites mission end. This is commonly done using the satellites on-board propulsion system or through naturally occurring orbital decay. Occasionally these systems fail, or are not used in exchange for extending the satellites operational life. Without strict laws and accountability, the number of satellites in orbit will continue to grow, in turn increasing the potential of future collisions.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has estimated that the removal of 10-15 of the high-risk pieces of debris each year could be enough to prevent collisions, and maintain a stable orbital debris population.
Here at Obruta Space Solutions, we are tackling the problem of space debris through both our active and end-of-life orbital removal solutions. Though preventing future satellite collisions, we can maintaining a safe LEO environment which will directly help enrich everyone's life down on the ground.
How Can We Create a Sustainable Orbital Environment?
Just like the movement towards sustainable and renewable technology here on Earth, there is a new push for sustainable space technology. You wouldn't throw away your car if it was low on fuel, a part breaks, or you need to call a tow truck, so why do we throw our satellites away when any of this happens? The first step towards making space sustainable is by increasing the lifespan of satellites through orbital servicing.
At Obruta Space Solutions we are working towards a sustainable future by developing technology to allow for better satellite servicing. By increasing the lifespans of satellites and removing space debris from orbit, we can create an accessible and safe environment for all future space missions.
Want to learn more about space debris? Follow the links below for further reading on the topic and how it is being combated around the world.
- Stuff in Space: Visualize and Interact with the Orbital Debris Environment
- The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee Website
- NASA Orbital Debris Program Office
- NASA Headquarters Library Space Debris Policies, Books, & Resources
- European Space Agency (ESA) Space Debris News Archive
- Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Article: Solving the Problem of Space Debris (2017)