Space Garbage: the Problem of Space Pollution

Unfortunately, as time goes on and space missions grow more ambitious, garbage orbiting in space will also increase. Already, junk is becoming a safety hazard for spacecraft. The problem is that there are no international rules to govern space debris; instead, each space agency has its policies.

For example, NASA has a policy not to leave debris in orbit more than 10 centimeters in any dimension. The Soviets and the Russians have stricter policies: they won’t send up anything more than 1 centimeter in any direction.

Right now, space garbage is at a low enough level—and spread out over such a large area—poses little danger. The majority of the trash is circling Earth in the same plane, or ring, about 300 to 800 kilometers above our planet’s surface.

What are the problems it will create in the future

Future space missions will be challenging due to these small pieces of junk floating around our orbit. For example, if an astronaut were to try and repair a spacecraft in orbit, the screws could puncture the hull because they are traveling very quickly.

Dr. Marco Castronuovo, from Imperial College London, said that fast-traveling pieces of space debris at high speeds might cause substantial damage to spacecraft and astronauts. Various authorities all around the world are keeping an eye on the issue and looking for solutions.

These space garbage particles can also be hazardous to astronauts. A piece of space junk as small as a grain of sand can weigh up to 10 kilograms when it reaches Earth. A pound of debris striking an astronaut at 36,000 kilometers per hour would instantly kill them.

An image of a space junk field circling Earth

The most dangerous part of space debris is old satellites. They are large, heavy, and made of metal, so they are very hard to control when they break down. They can easily crash into other satellites or spacecraft because people cannot make them move out the way in time. This will create more garbage, which will speed up the process.

Space Junk: How We Could Possibly Address Them

People are not sure if it is possible to clean the space from the garbage. NASA does have projects that are trying to improve the situation with space trash. The goal of this project is to understand better how charged particles interact with low-density material in space. This will be done using a sensor on the International Space Station that records data on charged particles.

Understanding this phenomenon will help scientists know where the most severe threats are coming from about space debris, which will allow them to make decisions about any intervention they might want to make.

These are just a few space agencies’ projects to help clean up our orbit, but they are certainly not easy tasks. There are many different types of garbage in space, and each piece poses a unique challenge. It’s unclear if anyone’s approach will address space pollution, mainly because we don’t know how much trash is circling the planet.

However, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t trying to find a solution. Maybe one day, we will be able to rid our planet of space junk and enjoy the full beauty of our orbit without having to worry about all of the dangers it presents.

How to Reduce Space Junk Now

There are several methods of space junk reduction.  One way is to put a propulsion system at the end of the spacecraft, which will cause objects in orbit to slow down gradually, eventually decaying and burning up in the atmosphere. 

Another method is the use of a “propulsive system” to remove objects from orbit. The US Air Force, in 2007, launched the first space junk collector that would connect with satellites to push them into lower orbits or to other orbits where they would no longer be a threat to workable craft. There are also plans for harpoons–slingshots that shoot projectiles upward at an angle to hook onto an object and pull it out of orbit.

Another method is to use laser or electric fields at the end of satellites to deorbit garbage when they get close enough.

The challenges that come with having so many satellites

Satellite launches have increased dramatically since 2010, with more than 150 launched so far in 2018. The launch frequency of 400 or 500 satellites per year – or one satellite every hour – is not inconceivable by the end of the 2020s—timeline of artificial satellites and space probes.

Practically all of these launches are for Earth observation, communications, scientific research, or other non-destructive purposes – but the potential threat posed by the increasing expansion of the human industry into space becomes ever more significant.

And with the rapid development of space technologies, there’s no reason not to expect the number of launches to continue increasing. The potential for collisions between objects in space is a genuine concern, and satellite operators are forced to maneuver their spacecraft out of the way of debris a lot more often than one might expect.

More people are getting into this field than ever before. It is possible to get a small satellite into orbit for less than $1 million. This means that the technology is affordable and accessible, which has allowed thousands of students, hobbyists, and engineers to get involved in space exploration.

Second, it is easier to design a satellite now because the components are cheaper and of better quality. For example, CubeSat technology has allowed us to build low-cost, standardized platforms that other satellites can launch into space. It has allowed NASA and the military to reduce costs and share resources. Different components – such as communications systems, sensors, high-resolution cameras, and batteries – have also improved over time.

This affordability means that many people can design, build and launch their satellites to conduct experiments or take pictures of Earth.

Conclusions

What are the problems it will create in the future?  It’s unclear if any method will solve space pollution, especially since we don’t yet know how much garbage is orbiting Earth. Several of these solutions for reducing space junk have already been tried, while others are still being studied. The only way that humans can get a sense of what works best is by trying different methods out–and then adapting them over time as new information becomes available. What do you think about this issue?

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