Falling Space Debris is a Bigger Menace Than Ever

History remembers October 4, 1957, a lot better than it remembers January 4, 1958—though in recent weeks, the second date is coming to loom larger than the first. October 4, 1957, was the day the Soviet Union Launched Sputnik—the world’s first satellite—an achievement that heralded the start of the space age.

“RUSS SATELLITE CIRCLING EARTH,” shouted the Los Angeles Times in a banner headline.

“REDS FIRE ‘MOON’ INTO SKY,” answered the Chicago Daily Tribune.

There was no such hyperventilating, however, three months later to the day, when the little 84 kg (184 lb.), beachball-sized satellite, having slowly lost altitude due to atmospheric drag, fell from the sky, burning up like a small meteor in the fiery heat of reentry. With that, the world’s first satellite became the world’s first piece of plummeting space debris. It would by no means be the last.
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Ever since 1957, a massive belt of cosmic junk—defunct satellites, spent rocket parts, bolts, scraps, paint chips, and more—has been accumulating around the Earth. According to figures from the European Space Agency (ESA), there are at least 36,500 space debris objects greater than 10 cm (4 in.) across; 1 million objects ranging from 1 cm to 10 cm (0.4 in to 4 in); and a whopping 130 million measuring 1 mm (.04 in) to 1 cm (0.4 in). Not only does all this cosmic rubbish pose a collision risk to both crewed and uncrewed spacecraft, it also menaces the 7.7 billion of us on the planet below.

Just last weekend, on July 30, the 25-ton core stage of a Chinese Long March 5B rocket fell from the sky in an uncontrolled plunge. Up to 40% of the giant booster survived the heat of reentry, and despite Chinese assurances that the mass of spent metal posed little or no danger to …read more

Source:: Time – Science


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