Earth's orbit is full of garbage, with more than 30,000 objects

Earth's orbit is full of garbage, with more than 30,000 objects

Long ago, looking up at the night sky provided an escape from the man-made chaos of the Earth. Today, the story is a little different. In less than seven decades after Sputnik's historic launch, our space has become saturated with humanoid creatures, leading astronomers to wonder whether light pollution will soon make it impossible to study other galaxies.

We have about 30,000 objects in space larger than a softball. Furthermore, new data suggests that the for-profit space race is affecting our skies with potentially harmful effects on Earth's climate and ozone layer.

Human involvement in stratospheric debris

New research has found that 10% of particles in the upper atmosphere contain metal pieces from out-of-orbit rockets or satellites. The outlook for the future is not promising: in the coming decades, human-generated debris is expected to account for 50% of stratospheric aerosols.

However, the implications for the ozone layer and climate are still unclear. One issue of concern is the increasing reliance on kerosene to power SpaceX rockets, adding tons of new fossil fuel emissions with each launch.

Junk space and business risks

With an estimated 100 million pieces of artificial debris the size of a pencil tip, there is a significant risk to doing business in space due to excess traffic. There are currently more than 8,300 satellites in orbit, and this number is increasing year by year. This is the onset of “Kessler Syndrome,” where excess traffic in space creates a vicious cycle of more debris, causing more collisions to the point where launch becomes impossible.

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Companies like Astroscale's North American subsidiary are increasing their efforts to clean up orbital debris. In 2022, they took a magnet-equipped satellite directly into our orbit, collecting a moving target launched into the same space. In addition, a new mission was launched to study the remains of a rocket left in low Earth orbit.

An environmental future in space?

For a more environmentally conscious future, scientists from Japan and NASA plan to launch the world's first biodegradable satellite, made primarily of wood, this summer. The current situation may be catastrophic, but small steps are being taken to better manage space debris and reduce the consequences for our skies and Earth.

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About the Author: Osmond Blake

"Web geek. Wannabe thinker. Reader. Freelance travel evangelist. Pop culture aficionado. Certified music scholar."

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