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Russia largest contributor to space debris

Date: 13 May 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

A new infographic reveals which countries owns the garbage floating in space and Russia is responsible for 14,403 pieces and the US comes in second with 8,734.

 

Background

The compiled data shows more than 30,000 particles from satellites, rockets and other man-made devices are orbiting Earth, which is more than double what was found in orbit two years ago. 

 

Details

  • Space junk left behind after missions can be as big as spent rocket stages or as small as paint flakes.

  • With fragments able to travel at speeds above 16,777 mph, even tiny pieces could seriously damage or destroy satellites.

  • In 2018, the complied data had found that the US had contributed the most space junk with 4,037 and Russia followed with 4,035.

  • However, in just two years, Russia moved to the top spot with 14,403 pieces. The US is in second with 8,734, followed by China 4,688 and France with just 994. India saw an increase with 124 more particles in the past two years, bringing its total to 517.

 

Space junk

  • There are an estimated 170 million pieces of so-called 'space junk', left behind after missions that can be as big as spent rocket stages or as small as paint flakes, in orbit alongside some US$700 billion (£555bn) of space infrastructure.

  • But only 22,000 are tracked, and with the fragments able to travel at speeds above 16,777 mph (27,000kmh), even tiny pieces could seriously damage or destroy satellites.

  • However, traditional gripping methods don't work in space, as suction cups do not function in a vacuum and temperatures are too cold for substances like tape and glue.

  • Grippers based around magnets are useless because most of the debris in orbit around Earth is not magnetic.

  • Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, either require or cause forceful interaction with the debris, which could push those objects in unintended, unpredictable directions.

  • Experts also pointed to two sites that have become worryingly cluttered. One is low Earth orbit which is used by satnav satellites, the ISS, China's manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others.

  • The other is in geostationary orbit, and is used by communications, weather and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to Earth.