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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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