Space Debris

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People are always wondering about the world outside of the atmosphere, coming up with different possibilities of the world beyond the starry sky. Stars become an incredible symbol of power. People use stars and their signs to predict personalities of people born in different months, navigate their route when they’re lost. The world outside of the Earth is so appealing to people that, as a result, large space exploration projects have been carried out. Although space exploration may bring benefit to humanity, the universe can be potentially damaged by these activities. People should reduce the amount of space exploration projects and focus on the issue of space debris.

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Space exploration starting from the Cold War has advanced human knowledge but also created space debris. Sputnik was the first artificial Earth satellite which was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 during the Cold War (Space Exploration). This was a milestone for human space exploration as it was the first-time human being could ever visualize the world beyond the Earth. During the cold war, there was a great tension between U.S. and the Soviet. Thus, the success of the Soviet Union made the U.S. feel a huge technological gap, which had encouraged Americans to start space exploration. Soon after, the U.S. had successfully launched their first satellite, Explorer 1, which allowed for the U.S. to “discovered the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth” (Garber). Other nations did not want to fall behind since the potential data could enhance information of the cosmos and benefit humanity. Therefore, every nation started to develop their own space organization. As more projects of space exploration were schemed, the whole universe had been disturbed by human research. For example, space debris, also known as space junk, is the man-made object which no longer serves a useful function for the spacecraft in the universe (Garcia). Many successful launches caused mass amounts of space debris to be left behind. This was due to spaceships’ need of abandoning components to go further; however, the seriousness of space debris was disregarded by the various data collected by these successful launches. The contribution of space exploration to our society is significant, and people are innovating more advanced technology to improve their space exploration technique. People’s eagerness of new knowledge encourage them to enhance information but the side effect is the creation of space debris.

Space exploration greatly improves the living standards of people as a whole. Space exploration helps us to understand knowledge by providing a perspective from Space and to use that understanding for humanities sake. For example, weather satellites improve forecasts, regardless of location and telecommunication satellites allow people to make long distance phone calls and view live television broadcasts (Howell). Global Positioning System navigation satellites allow people to navigate in unknown areas (Howell). It is these satellites that allow us to enjoy higher living standard and conveniences in today’s era. In addition, people can perform experiments for curing disease and “prolong human lives” in space. Some of these experiments have adverse effects not suitable to perform testing on Earth (Whitwam). An example of these experiments includes NASA’s experiment on MRIs and CT Scans, which resulted in mass advancement and gain of understanding in that area (Brinson). Space exploration can benefit us in various ways, so space exploration is vital for future development.

However, the garbage satellites left behind in the space poses a great threat to the global climate and future spacecraft. Space debris is “nonfunctional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris, and fragmentation debris” (Garcia). Space debris has polluted the space heavily. There are “around 20 tons of human-made stuff” left behind on “the lunar surface”, including “satellite parts, equipment from science experiments” and “crashed space probes” (Space Trash). All those trashes are causing pollution in the space and are affecting the ozone layer around Earth. Ross, a senior project engineer for civil and commercial launch projects, said that “The climate and ozone impacts of rocket exhaust are completely intertwined” (David). The climate change that partially contributed by increasing space debris includes melting icebergs, extinction of animals, and the shift of landscape, etc. The negative effects associated with space debris are magnified by the fact that there are “20,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth” now (Garcia). In addition, Space debris becomes the most serious risk for future space exploration and for those satellites that have been launched successfully. Since space debris “travels at speeds up to 17,500 mph”, it is fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft. The risk is greatly magnified as there are still tons of small space debris that people cannot detect which can also cause huge damage to spaceflights. A collision of space debris and spacecraft will jeopardize lives in spacecraft and impair those satellites that provide united signals for things like GPS. Therefore, the space debris is not only a cause of global warming but also a risk for future space exploration.

As the issue of space debris was raised, people started to take actions of cleaning space junk. Recently, US president Donald Trump “has signed a directive urging the Defence Department and Commerce Department to step up the United States’ ability to track objects in space” (Sheetz). The action of US showed that people started to notice the seriousness of the space debris and the urgency of bringing back the space debris. While Donald Trump was raising the awareness of leaving space debris, NASA took the action and invented “Earth-based Lasers” (Tate). Earth-based Lasers “could help move” space debris “away from potentially dangerous orbits and ultimately to de-orbit it entirely” (Emerging Technology from the arXiv). The use of the Earth-based laser was to move those threatening space debris away from space operators. Unfortunately, it didn’t work because this “could be seen as weapons threatening other spacefaring nations” (Choi). It was also worth noting that this project did not solve the basic problem which was the existence of space debris. It only solved the problems temporarily. As time went on, in 2012, Swiss had developed their own project called “CleanSpace One”. CleanSpace One was “a robotic janitor spacecraft” launched into space from the airplane (Tete). It caught the target space junk and destroyed “itself along with the derelict satellite” (Tate). More countries started to aware of the threats of space debris. In 2014, the U.S. invented the “Phoenix”, “a robotic service spacecraft” which could “chase down derelict satellites and harvest still-usable hardware”(Tate). This project encouraged the waste recycling, which benefited the society in two ways. Firstly, it decreased the waste in the space; secondly, it reduced the cost of making new spaceship by reusing the parts that collected from the space. The recycling of old material made this aerospace industry more sustainable. Those actions indicated that people started to aware the issue of space debris.

Unfortunately, there are many people think that the space debris is not an important issue now. They claim that there is no indication of any satellite “has ever been killed by space debris” (Accumulation of ‘Space Debris’). They think the space debris is so small compared to the incredibly huge space, that the space debris would not cause big problems. In addition, they think that the space debris will not even come to Earth, as they believe in the power of nature, and think the atmosphere has “the ability” “to burn up objects before they reach Earth’s surface” (Accumulation of ‘Space Debris’). However, all the claims above have been proved inaccurate. “WT1190F” is a space debris from previous mission entered Earth on 2012, Nov. 14 and landed at the Indian Ocean (Wall). Moreover, while incredible small space debris can be burned up by the atmosphere, WT1190F proves that space debris can successfully enter the earth without being burnt up. Even the chance of space debris falling down to Earth is slim if it ever occurs, this incident will cause catastrophic consequences to the society. For example, in 2012, Russian Phobos Grunt spacecraft was hit by the space debris and became uncontrolled when re-entering Earth (Wall). With more and more production of space debris, the chance of space debris entering space is no longer slim.

Among all issues in the aerospace industry, cleaning space debris is the most urgent issue and requires immediate intervention. One reason is that the collision between space debris will cause more production of space debris (Joel). This also means space debris is rapidly proliferating and moving in paths that are unknown to human. The issue with space debris won’t relieve if people don’t take effective and prompt actions immediately. As space debris creates, the chance of a satellite collides with space junk increases significantly. People have to take action, as satellites provide vital supports to our modern life. In addition, the more space junk is produced, the harder the future space exploration will be. When a spaceship is launched, they will have to plan a specific time to come back, if they miss a second, they have to wait for the next perfect timing (Quora). So space debris would hinder spacecraft to plan a perfect time to come back, which makes the estimation of fuels harder. In addition, the wandering space debris that travels at a fast speed poses a great threat to astronauts. In short, people shall increase their attention to cleaning space and take prompt action to decrease the amount of space exploration.

The issue with space debris will not alleviate if no action is taken now. The satellites that are already functioning properly might be damaged by undetectable space debris. Focusing on cleaning the space alleviates the threat space debris poses to our climate, astronauts as well as other successfully launched spacecraft. In short, even though space exploration contributes significantly to human society, the universe is gravely damaged by human activities, hence, people should reduce the amount of space exploration projects and focus on the issue about space debris. 

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Space Debris. (2021, Apr 09). Retrieved February 8, 2023 , from

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