WASHINGTON, DC – With life on this planet increasing dependent on satellite communications, residual space debris from years of launching various types of payloads into orbit is increasingly becoming a threat. NationalJournal reports that the Air Force and NASA track 23,000 pieces of space trash down to the size of a basketball, and moving at 17,000 mph, in order to aid the navigation of, for example, the International Space Station. Meanwhile, space capable countries are only recently becoming more responsible about trash disposal. At present there is little danger of junk colliding with working satellites on a regular basis, but the international community has no plan in place to mitigate the ongoing accumulation of clutter from, say, rocket upper stages and old satellites. These and other objects will become increasingly dangerous over time.
“There’s really no getting rid of the debris that’s already up there…”–Greg Allen
“There’s really no getting rid of the debris that’s already up there,” Allen said, citing the prohibitive cost of launching missions to get rid of each object. “The way to think of space is not in distance…. Those 250 miles are in reality over $100 million away…. There’s no coming down. That stuff’s there.”
The prospect of off-planet garbage collection also raises complicated international questions, such as: which country is going to fund the trip? Additionally, what nation is going to design the tools necessary to get the job done? While Japan is currently testing a 700-meter magnetic net, the net’s lack of propulsion and inability to attract satellites made of nonferrous metals means it’s likely unequal to the task at hand. While Allen cites that good behavior is getting better over time, a real solution has yet to be offered.
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