Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. Space Industry and Business News .

Recent events highlight risks from orbiting space junk
by Jim Algar
Washington DC (UPI) May 04, 2013

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Empty space. In discussions of things astronomical, the term pops up so often it's gone beyond cliche.

"A voyage into empty space." "Across the vastness of empty space." Yet in point of fact, space is never empty, neither between the most distant galaxies nor in the space above our heads here on earth.

Outer space is often described as a perfect vacuum -- which would certainly meet the definition of empty -- but it's not; there are always a few hydrogen atoms floating around.

Closer to home, it's not atoms that float around the Earth -- well, they're there, of course -- it's matter much more mundane, and man-made: space debris, or to put it more plainly, space junk.

There's a veritable floating junkyard of used-up rocket stages, de-commissioned satellites, and a mass of orbital debris in sizes down to fractions of an inch, the result of orbiting objects colliding and disintegrating.

NASA has tracked nearly 21,000 pieces of orbital debris larger than 4 inches, and estimates there are 500,000 pieces in sizes of at least a half-inch and 100 million pieces of smaller size.

The principle sources of the larger pieces are explosions and collisions of satellites, the space agency says.

This was highlighted last week when NASA released a report describing how its Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope dodged an orbiting bullet in the form of a disused Cold War-era spy satellite.

A NASA system that tracks space debris predicted the Fermi telescope would come dangerously close to Cosmos 1805, a Russian spy satellite launched in 1986 that, although long de-commissioned, was still speeding around the Earth at 15,000 mph.

In a desperate move, the Fermi team used the telescope's on-board thrusters -- intended only to guide it downward into the atmosphere to burn up at the end of its operational life -- to move out of the way of the Russian satellite's path.

Controllers fired the thrusters for just a second, moving Fermi sufficiently for it and the Russian satellite to miss each other by 6 miles.

But this was just one incident involving just one piece of space junk; there are bound to be more in the future.

That was borne out in another report last week of an object punching a small hole in a solar panel of the International Space Station.

Canadian astronaut and Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield photographed a small but very visible "bullet" hole, which he put down to a small meteoroid.

"Bullet hole -- a small stone from the universe went through our solar array. Glad it missed the hull," Hadfield wrote in his Twitter blog.

But some experts said they believed the hole was probably caused by a random piece of space junk.

"It's unlikely this was caused by a meteor, more likely a piece of man-made space debris in low Earth orbit," said Jim Scotti, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

A near-miss by a satellite and a small hole in a solar panel might seem minor affairs, but larger, more destructive events are bound to happen -- and in fact already have.

In 2009 two communications satellites, the U.S. Iridium 33 and the Russian Kosmos-2251, collided over Siberia at a speed of more than 26,000 mph.

The collision destroyed both satellites and added yet more orbiting debris to Earth's halo of space junk.

As manned missions move forward in the plans of space agencies of a number of countries, there should be considerable concern over the possible consequences of our leaving so much litter in our own astronomical back yard.

Empty space, indeed. Time to set up garbage collection.


Related Links
Military Space News at

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Global experts agree action needed on space debris
Paris (ESA) May 01, 2013
There is an urgent need to remove orbiting space debris and to fly satellites in the future without creating new fragments, Europe's largest-ever space-debris conference heard last week.. The findings from the 6th European Conference on Space Debris were released during the concluding press briefing at ESA's European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. Future space mission ... read more

World's First Full Color 3D Desktop Printer

EA inks deal for Star Wars videogames

Dell buys cloud software firm Enstratius

General Dynamics Team to Develop Second Radar System for the US Army Range Radar Replacement Program

Department of Defense looking to allow Apple, Samsung devices

DARPA Seeks Clean-Slate Ideas For Mobile Ad Hoc Networks

Astrium's secure milsatcoms now cover the world

Gilat to Equip IDF with SatTrooper-1000 Military Manpack

ESA's Vega launcher scores new success with Proba-V

European Vega rocket launch delayed due to weather

First of Four Sounding Rockets Launched from the Marshall Islands

Checkout is underway with O3b Networks' four satellites to be orbited on the next Arianespace Soyuz launch

Turn your satnav idea into business

NIST demonstrates transfer of ultraprecise time signals over a wireless optical channel

Spatial Dual Offers Dual Antenna For GNSS/INS

Raytheon completes second launch exercise for next generation GPS satellites

Taiwan wavers on F-16 deal

Nigeria fighter jet crashes in Niger, two killed

Iraq signs $830 million deal for more F-16s

Bird fossil sheds light on how swift and hummingbird flight came to be

A KAIST research team developed in vivo flexible large scale integrated circuits

Intel revamps chipsets in new mobile push

One step closer to a quantum computer

New Method Joins Gallium Nitride and Diamond for Better Thermal Management

Vietnam, with French help, set to launch remote sensing satellite

World's major development banks look closer at Earth observation

China Successfully Sends First Gaofen Satellite Into Space

China launches high-definition earth observation satellite

Progress in introducing cleaner cook stoves for billions of people worldwide

Odor and environmental concerns of communities living near waste disposal facilities

Hong Kong struggles to combat waste crisis

Hundreds protest China chemical plant: Xinhua

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement