Photos: Space Debris Images & Cleanup Concepts

UARS Satellite in Orbit

NASA

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.

Space Debris Desert Dropdown

NASA

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.

Space Station Mir

NASA

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.

Shuttle Columbia Debris

Nacogdoches Police Department

This tank from the space shuttle Columbia, which was destroyed during re-entry to Earth in 2003, was found in 2011 in east Texas.

Spacewalker Loses Tool Bag In Orbit

NASA TV.

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.

Cosmos 954 Space Debris Nightmare

NASA

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.

Cerise Satellite Hit by Debris Illustration

CNES

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.

How Much Junk Is Currently Up There?

NASA/ J.-C. Li

This chart shows statistics relating to space junk circling the Earth.

Space Debris: Solid Rocket Motor Slag

NASA

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.

Space Junk Problem Detailed

NASA/Orbital Debris Program Office.

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.

Delta Rocket Pressurant Tank Debris

NASA

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.

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