Earth Objects & Debris in Space

Lower & Higher Earth Orbits







Space debris populations seen from outside geosynchronous orbit (GEO).

Note the two primary debris fields,

 the ring of objects in GEO, and

the cloud of objects in low

earth orbit (LEO).



Debris impacts on Mir's solar panels degraded their performance. The damage

is most noticeable on the panel on the right, which is facing the camera and

has high contrast. The more extensive damage to the smaller panel below is

due to impact with a Progress spacecraft.



Debris in Space – Lower & Higher Earth Orbits

Space debris, also known as orbital debris, space junk, and space waste, is the collection of objects in orbit around Earth that were created by humans but no longer serve any useful purpose. These objects consist of everything from spent rocket stages and defunct satellites to erosion, explosion and collision fragments. As the orbits of these objects often overlap the trajectories of newer objects, debris is a potential collision risk to operational spacecraft.

The vast majority of the estimated tens of millions of pieces of space debris are small particles, less than 1 centimeter (0.39 in). These include dust from solid rocket motors, surface degradation products such as paint flakes, and coolant released by RORSAT nuclear powered satellites. Impacts of these particles cause erosive damage, similar to sandblasting. This damage can be partly mitigated through the use of the "meteor bumper", which is widely used on spacecraft such as the International Space Station. However, not all parts of a spacecraft may be protected in this manner, e.g. solar panels and optical devices (such as telescopes, or star trackers), and these components are subject to constant wear by debris, and to a much lesser extent, micrometeorites.




Tracking Space Debris






NORAD, Gabbard and Kessler – Tracking Space Debris

Since the earliest days of the space race, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has maintained a database of all known rocket launches and the various objects that reach orbit as a result – not just the satellites themselves, but the aerodynamic shields that protected them during launch, upper stage booster rockets that placed them in orbit, and in some cases, the lower stages as well. This was known as the Space Object Catalog when it was created with the launch of Sputnik in 1957. NASA published modified versions of the database in the now common two-line element set format via mail,[18] and starting in the early 1980s, the CelesTrak Bulletin Board System (BBS) re-published them.

The green line shows an estimate by Jonathan McDowell of the number of active satellites on orbit. it is absolutely dwarfed by the quantity of rubbish.

Right at the beginning of the Space Age, North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) started to give a catalogue number each item that was tracked in orbit. Satellites, spacecraft. rockets and debris were treated equally. Everything from 1957 onwards, the start of the space age, was included.



Space Debris can also affect Astronauts’ Space Walks, as they can also be hit by it



Endeavour suffered a major hit on the radiator during STS-118. The entry hole is just less than 1/2 inch. The exit hole on the rear of the panel is much larger.


Lab helps track Space Debris ( 3 mins)

There's a lot of debris floating around in space, and researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are using supercomputers, optical sensors and other technology to track even small objects that could damage important satellites.

EOST – Australia - Tracking Space Junk ( 7 mins)

In less than 50 years of space travel you wouldn't believe the amount of galactic garbage we've created. There are millions of man-made pieces of junk including pieces of satellites, rocket bodies, even chips of paint! All of them become potential lethal weapons against spacecraft because they are travelling at such high speeds. Something the size of a golf ball is enough to wipe out the entire space station! Well, an Australian company has developed a state of the art tracking system to help avoid collisions with space junk. It's a laser system accurate enough to track junk only one centimetre in size

- Space Debris can also affect Astronauts’ Space Walks, as they can also be hit by it.


NASA - Orbital Debris - Frequently Asked Questions





The Teide Observatory on Tenerife may be part of a European system


Tracking Space Debris – ESA ( 4 mins)

Tracking space debris for collision avoidance and human flight safety has been a priority for government space agencies since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. Yet the most recent satellite collision has revealed a dangerous void in tracking capabilities, proving that without a comprehensive system, the number of space objects in orbit will only continue to increase. A comprehensive catalog of space objects being developed now for the U.S. Air Force, using Objectivity's object-oriented database management solution (Objectivity/DB), could be the key to predicting and preventing catastrophic collisions in the future.

Using the Objectivity/DB-powered system, the U.S. Air Force will be able to track space objects in real-time, so that decisions about spacecraft placement and collision avoidance can be made in seconds, rather than hours or days. Objectivity/DB will also allow the system to scale nearly infinitely as the catalog grows larger.

Video courtesy of ESA (European Space Agency)


The Space Debris Story 2013 - ESA ( 16 mins ) 






Image showing all Low Earth Objects

"The latest incident has produced the worst field of space debris since China destroyed a defunct Fengyun 1-C satellite with a missile in January 2007.

That incident, designed to test an anti-satellite weapon system, produced more than 2,000 separate fragments of debris."

NASA and other space agencies are already tracking over 17,000 objects in space bigger than 10 cm. As we continue to launch more satellites, and accumulate more space junk, the risks of future collisions becomes greater.

Standing watch over a crowded space 




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