Space missions, broken satellites, rockets and weapon tests have left a large pile of debris and waste floating in space. According to data by the Orbital Debris Quarterly News, NASA, most space junk came from three countries Russia, USA and China. While Russia contribute 7,032 pieces of debris US and China added 5216 and 3854 debris pieces. The presence of debris and waste in space is a possible threat to future launches and space exploration. A large chunk of the debris comes as a result of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons tests by various countries. According to an estimate by the Secure World Foundation, at least 16 debris-creating ASAT weapons tests have been carried out to date.
The ASAT test was first created by the US back in the 1950s. The country since then, has launched three ASAT debris-creating tests, the last coming in 2008.
Potentially, the most damaging ASAT was carried by China in 2007 when it blew up one of their own satellites, leaving 3,000 pieces of debris in space, reported Statista.
In November year, Russia destroyed one of its old satellites using an ASAT weapon. The operation led to the creation of thousands of pieces of debris behind.
To clear the debris, many space missions are in the pipeline. However, they state multiple technological, geopolitical and economic challenges. The development of debris-clearing vehicles is a complex and expensive process. In case the mission fails, it’s likely to leave more debris behind.
But that’s not all, analysts of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) claim that the debris could reveal sensitive data about the object’s that they were part of. This may involve national security, foreign policy, and intellectual property. Hence, it is likely that the countries would just be interested in clearing the debris of their satellites.
Presently, two such debris-clearing missions are to be launched in upcoming years. This includes the European Space Agency’s Clearspace-1 and the Japanese Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration (CRD2) mission.
The problem of debris in space is likely to go up with the launch of spacecraft by private players in the coming years.