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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Space junk: Worse than you think (pictures)
by CNET News.com | November 12, 2012, 7:00pm PST | Image 23 of 24
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