Our Space Junk Problem Is Only Getting Worse
First mission is planned to reduce debris, but it could backfire
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 21, 2017 8:00 AM CDT
An undated photo from the European Space Agency shows a computer simulation of space debris.   (AP Photo/TU Braunschweig, File)

(Newser) – Decades' worth of man-made junk is cluttering up Earth's orbit, posing a threat to spaceflight and the satellites we rely on for weather reports, air travel, and global communications. More than 750,000 fragments larger than a centimeter are already thought to orbit Earth, and each one could badly damage or even destroy a satellite. Experts meeting in Germany this week say the problem will get worse as private companies send a flurry of new satellites into space over the coming years unless steps are taken to reduce debris, reports the AP.

Luisa Innocenti of the European Space Agency said Friday that a first mission to capture space junk is being planned, but noted that it is highly complex because failure could worsen the problem by creating more debris. That issue was highlighted in miniature recently when astronaut Peggy Whitson went on a March spacewalk. She lost the shield she carried as a protection against space debris, meaning it floated away to become part of the problem it was designed to combat, notes Fox News. It's one of the bigger objects lost by spacewalkers. (This video shows how fast the problem is growing.)

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