Space Junk is Getting Out of Control

Humans are so disgusting that it’s not enough to create literal mountains of landfills on Earth, we have to go and trash our own orbit, too. The European Space Agency reported on Friday that despite our progress in space exploration, the debris in space has gotten out of hand, and we must clean it up now for future generations.

At Europe’s seventh and largest-ever space debris conference — yes it’s a thing — about 350 scientists from around the globe discussed ways to mitigate space junk which has amounted to some 750,000 objects larger than 1 centimeter, and a staggering 166 million objects larger than 1 millimeter residing in commercially and scientifically valuable Earth orbits.

A satellite breakup in orbit. 


Some of the challenges are working around the several hundreds of satellites currently in operation for various telecom, weather, navigation, broadcast, and climate-monitoring projects. If something were to happen to these satellites in the process of spring cleaning, not only would vital research be abruptly put on hold, but developed countries that vitally depend on those satellites for communication, like the United States, would be in big trouble.

But, the scientists fear that if they don’t do their chores now, then current tech in orbit would be put at risk of collision, and sending even more satellites into the mix would exacerbate the issue.

“The conference demonstrated that the technology is available and the need is understood everywhere,” said Holger Krag, Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office at the conference. “However, implementation of these countermeasures is still a challenge, and this has the utmost importance in view of plans to deploy constellations of hundreds of satellites in space.”

One of those projects Krag mentioned, is Elon Musk’s SpaceX satellite constellation that would deliver broadband internet network to SpaceX and potentially help the company build a colony on Mars.

As for any clues as to how the ESA plans to get rid of the clutter, that is still a mystery. But, there are a few ideas in the mix, such as Launchspace Technologies’ giant space sweepers, aka “Debris Collection Units” and Japan’s idea to literally lasso the garbage out of orbit.

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