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Space Junk Explained: How Orbital Debris Threatens Future of Spaceflight (Infographic)

Infographic: Space debris in orbit could cause a chain reaction that would endanger the future of space travel.
High-speed debris from satellite explosions could cause a catastrophic chain reaction, as seen in the movie "Gravity." (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

As a result of 50 years of spaceflight, the useful orbits around Earth are littered with derelict satellites, burnt-out rocket stages, discarded trash and other debris. In September 2012, the U.S. Space Surveillance Network tracked about 23,000 orbiting objects larger than 2-4 inches (5-10 centimeters). By extrapolation it is estimated that there could be a total of 750,000 orbiting objects larger than 0.4 inch (1 cm).

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Karl Tate
Karl Tate

Karl's association with Space.com goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. From 2010 to 2016, Karl worked as an infographics specialist across all editorial properties of Purch (formerly known as TechMediaNetwork).  Before joining Space.com, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University and now works as a freelance graphic designer in New York City.