Description: An artist's concept of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) satellite in space. The 6 1/2-ton satellite was deployed from space shuttle Discovery in 1991 and decommissioned in December 2005. It will re-enter Earth's atmosphere as debris in late 2011.
On 21 January 2001, a Delta 2 third stage, known as a PAM-D (Payload Assist Module - Delta), reentered the atmosphere over the Middle East. The titanium motor casing of the PAM-D, weighing about 70 kg, landed in Saudi Arabia about 240 km from the capital of Riyadh.
The Mir Space Station and Earth limb observed from the Orbiter Endeavour during NASA's STS-89 mission in 1998. Mir was de-orbited on March 23, 2001 breaking up over the Pacific Ocean.
This tank from the space shuttle Columbia, which was destroyed during re-entry to Earth in 2003, was found in 2011 in east Texas.
An equipment bag drifts away from spacewalker Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper as she works on a solar array gear during a Nov.18, 2008 spacewalk outside the International Space Station.
A secret Soviet-navy satellite called Cosmos 954, which was launched on Sept. 18, 1977, spiraled out of control. The spy radar antennas each sported a compact nuclear reactor, making the reentry one of the most frightening to date for people on the ground.
Orbital debris meets operational satellite. The build-up of human-created orbital debris has reached a critical point. Here, an artist depicts spacecraft, which was a French military satellite, when it was hit by space debris in July 1996.
This chart shows statistics relating to space junk circling the Earth.
Solid rocket motor (SRM) slag. Aluminum oxide slag is a byproduct of SRMs. Orbital SRMs used to boost satellites into higher orbits are potentially a significant source of centimeter sized orbital debris. This piece was recovered from a test firing of a Shuttle solid rocket booster.
Each dot represents a bit of known space junk that's at least 4 inches (10 cm) in low-Earth orbit, where the space station and shuttles roam. In total, some 19,000 manmade objects this size or bigger orbit Earth as of July 2009; most are in low-Earth orbit. Countless smaller objects are also circling the planet.
This 30 kg titanium pressurant tank also survived the reentry of the Delta 2 second stage on 22 January 1997 but was found farther downrange near Seguin, TX.
Wipe out in the heavens: In 2007, China destroyed one of its own – an aging Fengyun-1C weather satellite – via an anti-satellite test.
Known orbit planes of Fengyun-1C debris one month after its 2007 disintegration by a Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) interceptor. The white orbit represents the International Space Station.
The European Space Agency’s Envisat was nearly on the receiving end of a spent Chinese rocket stage. The huge Enivisat satellite is expected to be a space debris target for many years to come.
An unidentified object - potentially a cable attachment fixture - floats away from two Russian cosmonauts conducting a spacewalk July 27 outside the International Space Station. Full Story.
This computer illustration depicts the density of space junk around Earth in low-Earth orbit.
An artist's illustration of a satellite collision from space debris in orbit. Space traffic accidents only beget more such accidents.
UK satellite sleuth, John Locker, took this image of the classified USA-193, subsequently destroyed by a ship-to-space missile interceptor in Feb. 2008.
Debris from the shot-down spy satellite USA 193 was visible from Maui, Hawaii after the satellite was destroyed while falling to Earth in Feb. 2008. The U.S. military shot the satellite down with a surface missile.
An artist's illustration of DARPA's Space Surveillance Telescope to monitor space junk, micrometeoroids and nanosatellties that could endanger U.S. military satellites in orbit.
An artist's illustration of ESA's Jules Verne ATV breaking up during its Sept. 29, 2008 reentry.
A photo of ESA's Jules Verne ATV cargo ship as it burns up in Earth's atmosphere to end its mission on Jan. 29, 2008.
This NASA graphic shows the trajectory of near-Earth object 2010 KQ, which scientists have concluded is likely a rocket remnant and not an asteroid, in May and June 2010. Full Story.
A look at how a ground-based laser could nudge space junk clear of any satellites to avoid damaging spacecraft in orbit.
A diagram of the ElectroDynamic Debris Eliminator (EDDE) concept spacecraft, which is designed to remove space junk from low-Earth orbit.
The first Space-Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) satellite will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sept. 25, 2010. The satellite is designed to detect and monitor debris, spacecraft or other distant space objects.
On Feb. 10, 2009, a defunct Russian satellite, right, and a privately owned American communications satellite, left, collided near the North Pole, producing clouds of debris that quickly joined the orbital parade of clutter, increasing the possibility of future accidents.
U.S. General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, underscored the worrisome issue of orbital debris during a presentation at the National Space Symposium on April 12, 2011.
Catalogue of orbital debris. Image
This computer-generated image depicts a vantage point above the Earth's north pole, showing the concentrations of objects in low Earth orbit and in the geosynchronous region.
Artist's concept of the Japan's intentional destruction of its first H-2 Transfer Vehicle, a disposable unmanned cargo ship that is purposely burned up during re-entry for disposal.
This NASA chart shows the historical growth of man-made space debris around Earth since 1960.
An overview of the Columbia debris reconstruction hangar in 2003 shows the orbiter outline on the floor with some of the 78,760 pieces identified to that date. More than 84,000 pieces of shuttle debris were recovered, some of which is included in a traveling NASA display to stress safety.
Rob McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia caught this image of the space debris created by the explosion of a Russian Breeze-M rocket booster. The bright star Spica is at the right.
In 1997, Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma reported that she was struck on the shoulder by falling debris while walking. It was later confirmed to be part of the fuel tank of a Delta II rocket. Additional debris from the Delta second stage reentry were recovered several hundred miles away in Texas.
This computer model depicts the new debris from the Iridium-Cosmos crash (in red) on top of the existing debris (in green) in orbit today.
Chris Hadfield snapped this shot of a "bullet hole" created by a micrometeoroid or piece of space junk in one of the space station's solar arrays.