PARIS – More than 500,000 pieces of space debris are orbiting the Earth, and their rising number increases the potential danger to all satellites.
NASA estimates there are more than 20,000 pieces of space debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth. Traveling at 17,500 mph, a relatively small piece of orbital debris could do serious damage to another satellite or a spacecraft. Moreover, There are many millions of pieces of debris that are so small they can’t be tracked.[Get a 10% discount on ARM TechCon 2012 conference passes by using promo code EDIT. Click here to learn about the show and register.]
International interest in cleaning up space debris has increased in recent years, especially after the 2009 collision between U.S. and Russian communication satellites at almost 790 km over Siberia, creating over 1,000 pieces of space debris.
Most recently in March 2012, a piece of debris from a Russian Cosmos satellite passed close enough to the International Space Station that the six crew members were ordered into escape capsules as a precaution.
The United States and Europe, not to mention all countries, take the threat of collisions with space debris seriously and are actively exploring ways to clean up the outer space. Recent efforts have been undertaken to mitigate the problem, including tracking and removing space debris.
Low-Earth orbit (LEO) is the region of space within 2,000 km of the Earth's surface. It is the most concentrated area for orbital debris.
Geostationary earth orbit images are generated from a distant oblique vantage point to provide a better view of the objects in the geosynchronous region (around 35,785 km altitude).
GEO Polar images are generated from a vantage point above the north pole, showing the concentrations of objects in low-earth and geosynchronous orbits.Source: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office