Space junk.. To boldly go where no junk has gone before! Mans intrepid reach for the cosmos has in no uncertain terms, left its tell tale signature… i.e. garbage!
According to NASA, they had to redirect the International Space Station 4 times last year to avoid collision with space junk. The debris is said to be the results of various anti-satellite missile tests and also failed or aborted space missions.
Another recent contributing factor in the space junk saga is said to be the new players in the space race whom haven’t signed up to the various space treaties set out by the UN.
You can see this for yourself on any clear night, about an hour after sunset or before sunrise. Any “star” that moves but does not blink is an object in low Earth orbit. And for every satellite you spot there are many more pieces of space junk not visible to the naked eye.
This is a growing concern for the NASA’s Orbital Debris program. Last month NASA issued a report stating that it had to maneuver the International Space Station (ISS) four times last year to avoid collisions with space debris.
When this happens, crew members aboard the ISS must sit out the pass of debris in their Soyuz craft in case an evacuation is necessary. Over $150 billion US has been spent on the ISS and any damage due to collision with debris would be a tremendous blow to the international space effort.
Four events have contributed to space debris concerns:
1. The 2008 Chinese anti-satellite missile test, which showered low Earth orbit with debris.
2. The 2009 collision between Iridium-33 and the defunct Cosmos 2251 satellite, again spreading more debris. There are concerns that low Earth orbit could suffer a “domino effect” where one collision triggers several more, known as an ablation cascade.
3. Solar activity is peaking as we head towards the 11-year maximum for Solar Cycle #24 in 2013-14. During this time the upper atmosphere of the Earth expands, drag on satellites increases, and an increase in reentries occurs.
4. Many new players in the modern space race aren’t signatories to space treaties and protocols. India, Israel, China and Iran have all proven launch capabilities and countries such as Pakistan, Vietnam and North and South Korea may soon join them.