Main | Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Space, Junked

In the mere 54 years since the advent of the space age, the nations of Earth have created an orbiting trash pile of more than 150,000 pieces of junk. Now, finally, comes the call for a clean-up campaign. Because it has become increasingly difficult to fly through all that crap.
The National Research Council says that the amount of space debris is past the "tipping point." Space launches will become riskier and more expensive because of the problems of avoiding debris and armoring space vehicles against the impact of unavoidable junk. The cleanup calls for a coordinated international effort by the dozen or so space-faring nations. NASA should take the lead because it has the skill to track debris ― the military space command is currently tracking 22,000 pieces 4 inches or larger ― and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has the inventive minds to devise ways of eliminating it. Besides, 30 percent of the junk is ours. But China especially should be assessed a large share of cleanup duties and costs. In 2007, despite warnings from other space nations, China, in a reckless and pointless display of its new space prowess, launched a missile to hit an obsolete weather satellite. The impact created 150,000 new pieces of space debris, 3,118 large enough to be tracked from the ground. That, combined with the collision of two satellites over Siberia in 2009, more than doubled the amount of junk in orbit.
"Harpoons, nets, tethers, magnets and even a giant dish or umbrella-shaped device" are among the suggested solutions.

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