Space debris populations seen
from outside geosynchronous orbit (GEO).
Note the two primary debris
the ring of objects in
the cloud of objects in low
earth orbit (LEO).
Debris impacts on Mir's solar panels degraded their performance. The
is most noticeable on the panel on the right, which is facing the
has high contrast. The more extensive damage to the smaller panel
due to impact with a Progress spacecraft.
Debris in Space – Lower & Higher
Space debris, also known as orbital debris, space junk, and space
waste, is the collection of objects in orbit around Earth that were
created by humans but no longer serve any useful purpose. These
objects consist of everything from spent rocket stages and defunct
satellites to erosion, explosion and collision fragments. As the
orbits of these objects often overlap the trajectories of newer
objects, debris is a potential collision risk to operational
The vast majority of the estimated tens of millions of pieces of
space debris are small particles, less than 1 centimeter (0.39 in).
These include dust from solid rocket motors, surface degradation
products such as paint flakes, and coolant released by RORSAT
nuclear powered satellites. Impacts of these particles cause erosive
damage, similar to sandblasting. This damage can be partly mitigated
through the use of the "meteor bumper", which is widely used on
spacecraft such as the International Space Station. However, not all
parts of a spacecraft may be protected in this manner, e.g. solar
panels and optical devices (such as telescopes, or star trackers),
and these components are subject to constant wear by debris, and to
a much lesser extent, micrometeorites.
Tracking Space Debris
NORAD, Gabbard and Kessler – Tracking
Since the earliest days of the space race, the North American
Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has maintained a database of all
known rocket launches and the various objects that reach orbit as a
result – not just the satellites themselves, but the aerodynamic
shields that protected them during launch, upper stage booster
rockets that placed them in orbit, and in some cases, the lower
stages as well. This was known as the Space Object Catalog when it
was created with the launch of Sputnik in 1957. NASA published
modified versions of the database in the now common two-line element
set format via mail, and starting in the early 1980s, the
CelesTrak Bulletin Board System (BBS) re-published them.
The green line shows an estimate by Jonathan McDowell of the
number of active satellites on orbit. it is absolutely dwarfed
by the quantity of rubbish.
Right at the beginning of the Space Age, North American Air Defense
Command (NORAD) started to give a catalogue number each item that
was tracked in orbit. Satellites, spacecraft. rockets and debris
were treated equally. Everything from 1957 onwards, the start of the
space age, was included.
Space Debris can also affect
Astronauts’ Space Walks, as they can also be hit by it
Endeavour suffered a major hit on
the radiator during STS-118. The entry hole is just less than 1/2
inch. The exit hole on the rear of the panel is much larger.
Lab helps track Space Debris ( 3 mins)
There's a lot of debris floating around in space, and researchers at
the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are using
supercomputers, optical sensors and other technology to track even
small objects that could damage important satellites.
EOST – Australia - Tracking
Space Junk ( 7 mins)
In less than 50 years of space travel you wouldn't believe the
amount of galactic garbage we've created. There are millions
of man-made pieces of junk including pieces of satellites, rocket
bodies, even chips of paint! All of them become potential
lethal weapons against spacecraft because they are travelling at
such high speeds. Something the size of a golf ball is enough to
wipe out the entire space station! Well, an Australian company has
developed a state of the art tracking system to help avoid
collisions with space junk. It's a laser system accurate enough to
track junk only one centimetre in size
- Space Debris can also affect Astronauts’ Space Walks, as they can
also be hit by it.
NASA - Orbital Debris - Frequently Asked
The Teide Observatory on Tenerife
may be part of a European system
Tracking Space Debris – ESA ( 4 mins)
Tracking space debris for collision avoidance and human flight
safety has been a priority for government space agencies since the
launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. Yet the most recent satellite collision
has revealed a dangerous void in tracking capabilities, proving that
without a comprehensive system, the number of space objects in orbit
will only continue to increase. A comprehensive catalog of space
objects being developed now for the U.S. Air Force, using
Objectivity's object-oriented database management solution
(Objectivity/DB), could be the key to predicting and preventing
catastrophic collisions in the future.
Using the Objectivity/DB-powered system, the U.S. Air Force will be
able to track space objects in real-time, so that decisions about
spacecraft placement and collision avoidance can be made in seconds,
rather than hours or days. Objectivity/DB will also allow the system
to scale nearly infinitely as the catalog grows larger.
Video courtesy of ESA (European Space Agency)
The Space Debris Story 2013 - ESA
( 16 mins )
Image showing all Low Earth Objects
"The latest incident has produced the worst field of space debris
since China destroyed a defunct Fengyun 1-C satellite with a missile
in January 2007.
That incident, designed to test an anti-satellite weapon system,
produced more than 2,000 separate fragments of debris."
NASA and other space agencies are already tracking over 17,000
objects in space bigger than 10 cm. As we continue to launch more
satellites, and accumulate more space junk, the risks of future
collisions becomes greater.
Standing watch over a crowded space