Space Junk – As If There Wasn’t Enough to Worry About

Just when you thought you had enough to worry about, now comes the news that space junk, the debris flying around in space, could hit the International Space Station or satellites. There was just another near-miss, according to Reuters.

A passing piece of potentially dangerous space debris forced astronauts at the International Space Station to temporarily seek refuge in escape ships early on Saturday, U.S. officials said.

The debris, a fragment from an old Russian satellite named Cosmos 2251 that smashed into an Iridium Communications spacecraft in 2009, passed harmlessly by the $100 billion orbital outpost at 2:38 a.m. EDT (0638 GMT), NASA said.

So, how much of this junk is out there? A lot.

More than 20,000 pieces of man-made debris larger than a softball currently orbit Earth. Space junk travels at speeds of up to 17,500 mph (28,164 kph), so even small pieces have enough energy to cause significant damage upon impact.

NASA says the greatest risk from debris comes from untrackable objects. The Feb. 10, 2009, collision of the Russian and Iridium satellites added more than 2,000 pieces of trackable debris to the growing list of space junk. Two years earlier,China intentionally destroyed one of its defunct weather satellites to test a missile, generating more than 3,000 pieces of debris. (Read More)

Ben Ryan, a former Navy SEAL writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, estimates the number of objects to be much higher, and warns that Defense cuts could effect the Space Fence program, putting satellites at risk.

Official estimates put the number of objects in Earth’s orbit in the millions, with at least 500,000 pieces more than half-an-inch long. Our orbit is now cluttered with defunct satellites, spent rocket boosters, and nuts and bolts from old spacecraft. And as the number of countries with space programs has increased, so has the amount of debris. ….

If a commercial satellite gets taken down or compromised by colliding with space debris, the daily lives of tens of millions of Americans could get disrupted. Think of all the devices you use that depend on signals from Earth’s orbit — that GPS system, your iPhone, even the radio in your car.

These devices stop working if their associated satellites get damaged.

More importantly, American military operations routinely rely on satellite technology to gain the upper hand in battle. Soldiers use satellite radios to communicate information that is critical to the success of missions and to their safety and survival. In today’s world, in which we rely increasingly on special operations forces working in smaller numbers and at greater distances from supporting forces, dependable communications are paramount. If a satellite goes down from a collision, service members can get killed. (Read More)

With the money the Obama administration’s been throwing away on green projects run by their cronies, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Space Fence program scaled back.