One of the largest human landfills is above our heads and is invisible to the naked eye.
Six decades of space races have left thousands of tons of scrap metal in orbit that threaten communication systems on our planet, warns the United Nations. “As the number of actors and objects thrown into space increases, the problem is becoming a major concern for the international community“, explains Simonetta Di Pippo, director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space (Unoosa).
Since 1957, when the space race began, more than 5,000 launches have accumulated a census of some 23,000 objects in orbit. Of these, only about 1,200 are functioning satellites, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The rest is useless and classified as space debris. A huge problem is debris from collisions between satellites or fuselages of debris from rockets and other orbiting artifacts. And the situation is aggravated because it is a chain effect, the more objects in orbit, the more likely there are to be new collisions and to create more drifting scrap.
ESA estimates that there are some 750,000 useless objects of more than a centimetre orbiting at enormous speed – 56,000 kilometres per hour – whose impact on a satellite or space station can cause serious damage. At the moment there are no technical solutions to this problem and the only measure is to prevent the creation of new scrap.
Space debris is expected to increase, because the space race continues to develop and, above all, because a new generation of small, low-cost satellites have begun to invade space. Elon Musk, founder of electric car company Tesla, and Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, are two of many entrepreneurs who have projects to install small satellite networks, or megaconstellations, to expand broadband worldwide. Space X – Musk’s company – has already launched dozens of mini-satellites within its project this year to create a dense network offering low-cost internet services.