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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's association with SPACE.com goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. Starting in 2010, Karl has been TechMediaNetwork's infographics specialist across all editorial properties.  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. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Karl on Google+.