This Is How Much Garbage We’ve Left in Orbit Around Earth

posted: 12/30/15
by: Danny Clemens

If you think there's a lot of trash on Earth, you should see what we've left in space: nearly 20,000 pieces of small debris from a half-century of space missions, left to float aimlessly in orbit.

Known to scientists as space debris, the collection of garbage is comprised of everything from entire derelict satellites to small pieces of junk created by in-orbit collisions.

Because the debris can pose a threat to functioning equipment and manned missions in orbit, the United States Strategic Command maintains a comprehensive catalogue of the larger pieces. University College London lecturer Dr. Stuart Grey recently amalgamated USSC's open-source data into a simple visualization (and accompanying interactive experience) that tells our pollutive history, and the result is sobering:

Spacecraft launches and other missions are planned with the threat of debris collision in mind -- at times, even the International Space Station has had to change course to prevent collision with larger chunks.

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While space agencies around the globe are voluntarily taking steps to reduce the amount of space debris introduced during future missions, there isn't much that can be done about existing debris at this point.

Several different organizations have proposed launching spacecraft to intercept space debris, but the cost of doing so has thus far been prohibitive.


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