Satellites and spacecraft are already running a daily gauntlet of spent rocket stages, screws, bolts and other objects that currently encircle our world. As time goes on, the problem will reach the point at which it will be too risky to send anything else up into space due to the risk of a collision.
As things stand, there are estimated to be more than 3,500 defunct satellites and as many as 750,000 smaller fragments of debris circling far above our heads with more being added all the time.
The problem was brought into sharp focus this week when it was reported that two objects – an old Chinese rocket stage and a defunct Russian satellite – were on a potential collision course.
If the two were to crash into one another, it would have produced a huge plume of space debris – adding tens of thousands of new objects to the circling array of trash in orbit around our world.
The risk of a collision was around 10% – a high probability in the context of space collisions – thus prompting a great deal of interest from astronomers and social media users alike.
Fortunately however, the two objects passed by one another without incident.
“No indication of collision,” space mapping platform LeoLabs Tweeted. “CZ-4C R/B passed over LeoLabs Kiwi Space Radar 10 minutes after TCA.”
“Our data shows only a single object as we’d hoped, with no signs of debris. We will follow up in the coming days on Medium with a full in-depth risk assessment of this event!”
Given how much debris is up there however, it is only a matter of time before a collision of this nature actually does occur.
Cleaning up Earth’s orbit will likely become a big priority over the coming decades.