A recently published report warns that space junk poses a clear and present danger to orbiting satellites and the International Space Station (ISS).
According to the National Research Council, NASA hasn’t managed to keep pace with increasing hazards posed by abandoned equipment, spent rocket bodies and other debris orbiting the Earth.
As such, the council recommends NASA develop a formal strategic plan to optimize the allocation of resources devoted to the management and eventual removal of orbital debris.
Indeed, computer generated models indicate the debris have reached a “tipping point” – with enough space junk currently in orbit to continually collide and create even more debris.
It should be noted that collisions have disabled and even destroyed satellites in the past.
“The current space environment is growing increasingly hazardous to spacecraft and astronauts,” confirmed Donald Kessler, chair of the committee that wrote the report and retired head of NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office.
“NASA needs to determine the best path forward for tackling the multifaceted problems caused by meteoroids and orbital debris that put human and robotic space operations at risk.”
However, removal of orbital debris introduces another set of complexities, as only about 30 percent of the objects can be attributed to the United States.
“The Cold War is over, but the acute sensitivity regarding satellite technology remains,” explained committee vice chair George Gleghorn, former VP and chief engineer for the TRW Space and Technology Group.
“International legal principle [stipulate that] no nation may salvage or otherwise collect other nations’ space objects. Therefore, NASA should engage the U.S. Department of State in the legal requirements and diplomatic aspects of active debris removal.”