Space, the final jun…
Space, the final junk-tier.

In January 2005, the US Space Surveillance Network saw a 31-year-old US Thor rocket body collide in space with part of the third stage of the Chinese CZ-4 rocket that exploded in March 2000. At least three pieces broke off the Thor rocket stage, adding to the growing collection of space junk orbiting Earth.

Now, NASA researchers have calculated that such occurrences will only increase. Even without launching any additional spacecraft, the number of new fragments created by collisions will exceed the number falling back to Earth and burning up by 2055.

And reaching that tipping point by 2055 is a best case scenario. “In reality we know it’s going to get worse sooner,” says J C Liou, principal scientist and project manager with the engineering science contract group at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, US, and who led the new study. Nations will continue to launch new satellites into Earth orbit, meaning the total amount of space junk will start increasing much sooner.

This is of concern to space-faring countries because even a centimetre-sized speck of debris, speeding along at thousands of kilometres per hour, could damage an operational satellite.

“Sorry sir, we can’t take the shuttle down to the surface. Too much junk in the way.” “Guess we’ll have to stay in orbit until we invent transporter technology.”

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