Space Junk: It’s Not As Bad As It Looks (what?)


According to NASA, these new images of space junk orbiting Earth make the situation look more dire than it really is.

I suppose that would be like a store manager looking at the shop floor of Toys ‘R’ Us on the day after Thanksgiving rubbing his chin and saying, “You see, I told you it would be quiet.” In actuality, the shop would be rammed full of bargain hunters, and by the looks of things, Earth orbit (from LEO to geostationary altitudes) is rammed full of junk.

But space is big, so although it might look a little grim up there, it’s very unlikely a spaceship will collide with anything. A statement from NASA agrees:

The dots are not to scale, and space is a very big place. Collisions between large objects are fairly rare. The orbit of each piece is well known. If any debris comes into the path of an operating NASA satellite, flight controllers will maneuver the satellite out of harm’s way.

This may be the case, but I would argue that as a space-faring race, us humans have barely dipped our toes in the cosmos yet. It’s going to take a lot more rocket launches and space littering before we can have routine access to space. If it looks like this now, in the first decade of the 21st century, how much junk is going to be up there in 20, 50 or 100 years time when manned space flight is commonplace?

We’re already manoeuvring satellites, shuttles and space stations out of harms way, and occasionally satellites do collide. Unfortunately, I think space junk will be an additional man made hazard for space travel; we’ll just have to deal with it.

But for now, be sure to pack your double-glazed Whipple Shield if you intend to take a trip into low-Earth orbit