Space debris poses a multitude of problems which will only be exacerbated by an inevitable increase in space exploration. The junk floating around in space includes spent rocket stages, old satellites, and fragments from disintegration, erosion, and collisions. Sometimes, when their orbits overlap with new spacecraft, the chances of collision are significantly increased.
Due to an increase in the density of objects in the low Earth orbit (LEO), accidental collisions between these objects could cause a huge cascade effect. This hypothetical scenario is known as the Kessler syndrome. In such a situation, the debris caused by a collision can substantially increase the likelihood of more collisions, leading to a collisional cascade of catastrophic proportions.
Preventing A Real-Life Gravity
Acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity has brought this issue to the forefront. Capitalizing on the attention created by the film, the US House of Representatives conducted Space Subcommittee hearing entitled ‘Space Traffic Management: How to Prevent a Real Life Gravity.’
With the commercialization of space travel, the increase of human access to space can cause an upsurge in space collisions leading to more debris leading to even more collisions.
According to Lieutenant General John W Raymond, commander of the Pentagon’s joint functional component command for space, “As the barriers to access space are lowered, the number of actors is expected to increase, and our ability to carry out our missions will become progressively more difficult.”