Just The Facts

Space Junk: The US Factor

A total of 5,182 cataloged objects in the orbit are attributable to the United States.

Credit: Glenn Jenkinson Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • The United States is the second-largest contributor of space debris.
  • Even the smallest items can prove deadly dangerous due to the high velocity of any object in orbit.
  • Space debris can cause catastrophic damage to Earth’s satellites as well as endanger humans.

1. The United States is the second-largest contributor of space debris.

2. A total of 5,182 cataloged objects – or nearly a fifth less than the Soviet Union and its successors – is attributable to the United States.

3. The United States government began seriously studying the problem of space debris in the 1980s and started advocating for international cooperation on the issue during the 1990s.

4. Preventive measures include constructing space vehicles with structural stability in mind (to avoid accidental breakups) and mechanical designs allowing future spent rockets and retired satellites to be returned safely into the atmosphere. Launch systems should also include fewer stray parts released into orbit.

5. Early space activities often carelessly left objects behind, on purpose, because there were few items and the risks were not properly considered.

6. Today, there are nearly 17,000 cataloged objects and many more uncataloged objects.

7. The United States Space Surveillance Network, which tracks all manmade objects and fragments orbiting earth is part of the U.S. military.

8. These items, which range in size from paint flecks to entire rocket bodies, have been accumulating since the start of the space race in the late 1950s.

9. Even the smallest items pose a serious risk to the civilian and military satellite infrastructure, as well as to manned missions and the space station, because of the extremely high velocity of any object in orbit.

10. These debris objects can cause major to catastrophic damage to Earth’s many communication and military satellites as well as endanger humans in orbit.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, United States Space Surveillance Network, NASA, Secure World Foundation

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