|Space Travel 101: Fundamentals of Space Travel|
Space debris is a result of our environmental negligence. Debris continually orbits Earth for up to millions of years and poses a hazard to satellites and spacecraft alike. They orbit at high speeds, colliding among themselves and creating an endless, deadly cycle.
When an object is in the Earth’s atmosphere, it will be pulled by gravity down to Earth. Most space debris completely burns up in the atmosphere of Earth. However, if an object is above the atmosphere, it will continue to orbit Earth for up to millions of years. This poses a hazard to satellites and spacecraft that orbit or leave Earth. Orbital debris is a product of our own environmental negligence.
Debris can originate from bolts, lens caps, equipment covers, thermal blankets, and even eroded spacecraft paint. Smaller space debris comes from spacecraft or satellites explosions. Some Soviet nuclear-powered spy satellites leak coolant into space that is solidifying into balls that are approximately one inch in diameter. A piece of debris moves at approximately 17,500 miles/hour (28,000 km/h). This means that a small speck of paint has the ability to disable a medium-sized spacecraft. In addition, any collision between two substances in space can create many new, smaller fragments that later collide and split as well.
Over time, Earth’s orbit will contain a large amount of celestial scrap. Important orbits now have debris scattered throughout them that threatens satellites and the lives of astronauts. Scientists are working to improve the situation, but it may take a major catastrophic event before the danger of space debris gets widespread attention.