Human-made orbital debris threatens use of Earth orbiting spacecraft.
CREDIT: Melrae Pictures, Space Junk 3D

Space Junk Menace: How to Deal with Orbital Debris

by Leonard David,’s Space Insider Columnist
Date: 25 January 2013 Time: 12:03 PM ET

The saga of what steps that must be taken to deal with the evolving threat of Earth-circling orbital debris is a work in progress. This menacing problem — and the possible cleanup solutions — is international in scope.

Space junk is an assortment of objects in Earth orbit that is a mix of everything from spent rocket stages, derelict satellites, chunks of busted up spacecraft to paint chips, springs and bolts. A satellite crash in February 2009, for example, marked the first accidental hypervelocity crash between two intact artificial satellites in Earth orbit. That cosmic crash created significant debris — a worrisome amount of leftover bits and pieces.

Against this backdrop of untidiness in space and the global worry among spacefaring countries it causes, experts continue to tackle the issue of exactly what to do about orbital debris. A number of rules have been pondered to address the space debris problem, from regulations that attempt to cut down on the shedding of new debris to better tracking of the human-made refuge, as well as scavenging concepts including fishing nets, lasers and garbage scows.

But how to best characterize the orbital debris dilemma, and its future, also stirs up debate and heated dialogue.

Read more: Space Junk: Dealing with the Orbital Debris Threat |

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