Garbage—it’s a problem both on Earth and in outer space. Here on Earth, local and federal governments, as well as private companies, have been working on programs and innovative ways to reduce the amount of garbage that’s collected. The straw that you get from the local café might be made from plants and is therefore compostable. Carrying a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic one? That’s probably because you heard plastic is bad for the planet. Slowly, but surely, innovative technology and Earth-saving programs are eliminating more and more garbage from polluting our planet. But how about outer space?
Ever wonder what happens to a satellite when it’s no longer being used or the debris that’s left behind after a rocket self-destructs? Sadly, this debris is left in space. How much debris could be out in space, you might be wondering? Before we answer that question, let’s take a walk down history lane, shall we? When the Soviet Union (now Russia) launched a tiny satellite named Sputnik in 1957, that began the space race, a race between the Soviet Union and the United States to see who would be the first to conquer space exploration first. Other countries soon followed by inventing, launching, and testing satellites and rockets of their own. Since the 1950s, space exploration has only expanded and with that so did space debris from defunct satellites. According to NASA, there are over five hundred thousand pieces of space debris at least the size of a softball in low Earth orbit (LEO).
This debris is too far for the human eye to see, but it’s there and moving very, very fast. These fast-flying pieces of debris can cause a lot of problems, one of which is crashing into the International Space Station (ISS) which happened recently. During a routine inspection of the ISS, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency noticed a hole in one of the robotic arms of the station. Fortunately, the arm still seems to work, but debris collisions like these are one of the reasons why NASA tracks approximately twenty-three thousand pieces of space debris. This is also the reason why companies are working on ways to clean up space garbage. From a robot dragging space junk into Earth’s atmosphere so that it burns and disintegrates to a two-piece satellite that uses magnets to help collect space garbage, these innovative space debris collecting companies are looking to clean up the mess that future space exploration will inevitably leave behind.
Have an idea for how we can clean up space garbage? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org!