The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ, German only) today published an article on space junk. The shocking image is an eye opener. Humankind continues to repeat the mistake of strewing waste into common spaces (no pun intended) without a thought to the consequences, leaving costs we don't want to pay today for the future generations. The FAS article spurred our curiosity, leading us to find even more spectacular video and potential solutions to the problem (overleaf).
The ESA Space Debris Accumulation video depicts the tragic build up of space debris from 1957 through 2000. According to ESA's resident space debris expert, Walter Flury, the 10,000 pieces of space litter catalogued at the end of 2003 break into the following categories:
- 41% -- miscellaneous fragments
- 22% -- old spacecraft
- 13% -- mission related objects
- 7% -- operational spacecraft
- 7% -- rocket bodies
Real Damage from Space Debris
Graveyards in Space
So what can be done? Guidelines do exist, published by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). The guidelines limit creation of debris in normal operations, and promote "disposal" either by deorbiting junk back towards earth, where it usually burns up in the atmosphere, or by putting space junk into "graveyard" orbits above the commercially important low-Earth and geostationary orbit zones. But more needs to be done. Some experts advocate for regulations. Live Science takes it a step farther, speculating on giant NERF balls, space lasers and cosmic collection vehicles among other imaginative ways to tackle the growing problem.