Falling space debris a potential killer

Falling space debris a potential killer

Space debris around the Earth Credit: NASA/Public domain

There is a not-insignificant chance that space debris may fall and kill someone on Earth in the next decade.

Space debris has a 1-in-10 chance of killing someone on Earth within the next 10 years researchers have said. Discarded stages from space rockets and other space exploration ‘leftovers’ are one of the major culprits of a build-up of ‘space junk’ in our near orbit.

As Mario Nawful said on Twitter:

We humans know how to mess up everything, and we’re now polluting space  Here’s 2014 vs 2018, and today it’s much worse. Here’s some numbers: 5,465 satellites orbiting Earth 63 per cent are US-Operated 60 per cent are defunct (space junk) Let’s make sure we find a solution”.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has estimated that the number of objects considered space debris that are currently in orbit is 131,365,000. These are divided into: 130 million pieces sized between 1 mm and 1 cm, 1 million pieces sized between 1 cm and 10 cm and 36,500 pieces greater than 10 cm.

Their statistics also say that from the 6,380 successful rocket launches made since the beginning of the space age in 1957, around 15,430 satellites have been placed into the Earth’s orbit. The number of these satellites they believe remain in space is 10,290, of which around 7,500 are still functional.

With break-ups, explosions, collisions, or anomalous events resulting in fragmentation of these objects, it is still believed that the mass of all space objects in Earth’s orbit is more than 10,800 tonnes.

This informative video was posted on Twitter by USA TODAY stating:

Part of the Space Age’s legacy is its space junk, an ever-growing ring of “zombie” satellites and orbital debris. The debris threatens current and future missions, U.S. national security and the global economy.”

Professor Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia (UBC) and his colleagues, as reported in the Express, decided to try and calculate the potential risk to human life from this space junk.

Collating data available through the public satellite catalogue CelesTrak, the team calculated the potential risk to human life over the next decade to be a 10 per cent chance of someone being killed.

Luckily, as reported on Twitter by SASIC, some sort of giant space vacuum cleaner is in development:

South Australian start-up and Venture Catalyst Space cohort member @paladinspace are developing reusable satellites that collect and eliminate space junk.”

We will all have to hope that until this impressive-looking space cleaner is developed, that we can avoid falling debris.

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Written by

David Laycock

Dave Laycock has always written. Poems, songs, essays, academic papers as well as newspaper articles; the written word has always held a great fascination for him and he is never happier than when being creative. From a musical background, Dave has travelled the world performing and also examining for a British music exam board. He also writes, produces and performs and records music. All this aside, he is currently fully focussed on his journalism and can’t wait to share more stories from around the world and beyond.