Space junk is bad and made much worse by countries destroying satellites

space junk
Image by Siberian Art | Bigstockphoto

Space junk is already a huge problem. It is made worse when countries blow up old satellites as part of a test to show how great they are at this space exploration stuff.

China blew up a weather satellite a decade ago, causing a massive field of space junk. 2,700 pieces of rubbish are still up there.

Russia did a similar thing last week, causing concern and anger amongst the global space community and forcing the inhabitants of the ISS to seek shelter in their docked spacecraft.

The thing about space junk, of course, is that a piece the size of your smartphone can destroy a satellite.

The thing about space is that we are throwing ever more satellites, craft and telescopes into some sort of orbit that even without the rubbish, is getting really crowded.

To get a feeling for how bad the space junk problem is, click here.

The good news is that the vast majority of the junk is being tracked. Currently over 28,000 pieces of space junk are being tracked, although that number will have jumped again because the recent explosion. Space debris – smaller pieces of junk – numbers around 900,000 objects and there are a total of 160 million objects in orbit.

The good news is that the problem is being addressed.

Governments, of course, are involved but the real solutions are being built by commercial organisations, some in partnership with Universities and specialist data crunchers such as AWS. A project involving Fujitsu, the University of Glasgow, AWS and the UK Space Agency is at the leading edge of not only harvesting space junk but doing so in an incredibly efficient manner. As with space junk, as with other fine messes such as cryptocurrencies, it will be commercial organisations that make the biggest difference, simply because they are incentivised to do so.

This issue does, of course, bring into focus the Elephant in the Room.

Space is looking very much like the Wild West. Of course there are international agreements about some of the issues but at some point there will be the argument and possible fight about who owns space.

Countries are already claiming planets. Russia has claimed it owns Venus, for example. Mars is owned by a doctor in England and presumably Elon Musk will buy it off him when he gets there.

With so much invested in space, so many craft drifting around, more countries becoming space nations and more space junk than we can easily keep up with, it is essential that the whole of the space community agrees on whether anyone owns space – or should – and how it should be managed.

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