If you thought we only leave trash on Earth, you are wrong. We also leave a lot of waste thousands of miles above Earth.
The build up of space debris caught in Earths orbit is mostly caused from countries and now private companies launching satellites and other missions. While this may be very beneficial to us (e.g. satellites to better signal transmission systems and weather predictions, gps, etc.), we might be overlooking the litter left by the rockets used to launch these satellites. It was not a big deal a few decades ago but now it’s starting to get noticed.
The amount of litter is just a little when you compare it to the amount of space it’s passing through, but it can’t be collected (yet) like we do here, so it will just build up over time. Space debris can be as small as a piece of rock, but can travel at speeds over 17,000 mph. If there is a new satellite that must sent into space, the launches have to be planned accordingly to avoid collisions.
Just imagine what will happen if space debris moving around at such speeds continue to accumulate. Sending off manned missions in the future will become problematic, as all this debris becomes a threat ship and more importantly, our brave astronauts.
Because of this, U.S. officials are thinking of creating some sort of air traffic controller in space. This way, those satellites and spaceships venturing out of the planet will be directed to avoid crowded areas in space.
Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Douglas Loverro told Defense One that the overcrowding in space will be a big problem someday.
“We need a regulatory structure to do this. I think the first entree into that is allowing the FAA into the space traffic monitoring game, which will eventually, I think, lead to a space traffic management,” he stated.
The gif below was created by the ESA, estimating how much debris will be orbiting Earth by 2209 and what it could look like if we found a system to clean it up.