Space Junk Rivals Weapons as a Major Threat

U.S. and Australia Join Forces to Track Space Junk
This graphic depicts the trackable objects, satellites and space junk, in orbit around Earth. (Image credit: ESA)

What began as a minor trash problem in space has now

Hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk —

These objects could do serious damage to working spacecraft

The new Space Security 2010 report released by the Space

Such growing awareness of the space debris problem builds on

Consideration of space debris as a major threat may cause

"This is an important realization, because before that

All those bits of garbage in space could eventually create a

The space debris swarm

Even fictional space navigator Han Solo might prefer to risk

The possibility of a damaging collision between spacecraft

More than 21,000 objects larger than 4

"The shuttle was more likely to be wiped out by

But the problem has become much worse since Kessler began studying

The Kessler Syndrome

That prediction, known as the Kessler Syndrome, may have

China's intentional destruction of an aging weather

More recently, a U.S. Iridium communications satellite and a

The overall trackable amount of

NASA and other U.S. agencies could use national space policy

"If we only bring down four objects per year, we can

Path to cleaner space

The national space policy shift shows that policymakers have

"This policy basically sets the playing field for what

The United States and other countries could begin discussing

But legally binding agreements remain politically unlikely, Weeden cautioned. More plausible is an agreement on a

Change of tune

The criticism of past space weapons tests that have created

"When the United States tested an anti-satellite (ASAT)

Both countries have since changed their policies, and said

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Contributing Writer

Jeremy Hsu is science writer based in New York City whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Discovery Magazine, Backchannel, and IEEE Spectrum, among others. He joined the and Live Science teams in 2010 as a Senior Writer and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Indicate Media.  Jeremy studied history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, and earned a master's degree in journalism from the NYU Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. You can find Jeremy's latest project on Twitter