Litter(ally) Junk In Space.

Not content with polluting only the planet, it seems that we have managed to fill the space around the Earth with floating debris.  This computer generated image below shows all the debris, not functional satellites that make up 95% of the objects shown.

Tracking space junk

The bad news is that it is getting worse.  NASA estimates that there are more than 500,000 pieces of hazardous space debris orbiting Earth.  Just the other day the International Space Station had to maneuver to avoid hitting some space debris.

And it only gets worse as bigger pieces of debris, like satellites, collide with other objects, or each other, resulting in the larger pieces of junk turning into more and more smaller pieces of junk.  As I wrote about earlier the European Space Agency has a satellite that doesn’t have enough fuel to move into a decaying orbit, or out of the main flight paths of other satellites.

DARPA is so concerned with the problem that it’s started what it calls the SpaceView program, which seeks to enlist amateur astronomers as sky watchers, helping to track all the debris floating above.

Windshield nick

To demonstrate the destructive power of this debris, the image above shows the damage that a fleck of paint floating (at a high velocity) in orbit did to the front window of the Space Shuttle Challenger’s on the STS-7 mission.  A fleck of paint.

On average, two Shuttle windows were replaced per mission due to damage caused by micro-meteoroid and orbital debris impacts.

How much junk is up there?

The United States has a network in place to track about 30,000 of the 500,000 objects in orbit.  The graphic above shows the relative size of all that junk orbiting the planet.

Cobra Dane radar

The Cobra Dane radar located on Shemya Island, Alaska, shown above, is one of the phased array radars used to detect and track objects as small as 5cm for the U.S. network.

Lottie Williams, hit by junk

Space junk: Worse than you think (pictures)

by CNET  |  November 12, 2012, 7:00pm PST  |  Image 23 of 24

Lottie Williams, above, of Tulsa, Okla., reported that she was struck on the shoulder by falling debris while walking in 1997.  It was later confirmed to be part of the fuel tank of a Delta II rocket.  She is one lucky, or unlucky, person.  She is the only person known to have ever been hit by falling space junk.
Removing this junk from orbit is no easy task.  All the debris is tumbling or spinning, making them difficult to capture. But active debris removal is a first step to cleaning up the environment in space, and maintaining the low Earth orbit as a safe place to do business.  This will become increasingly urgent as commercial ventures to space gain in both affordability and routine.
How Can You Help?
If you are an amateur astronomer, or just interested in helping out, click the links above to find out how you and your telescope can help track these objects and make space a safer place.

How Can I Help?

If you have an idea for removing space junk and need to file a patent to protect your idea, or know someone that can use my help, please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation by sending me an email or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +


One thought on “Litter(ally) Junk In Space.

  1. Pingback: Space Junk Menace | Astronomy and Law

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