Space Debris

Broadly, space debris (also referred to as orbital debris) are the meteorites, defunct satellites, spent rocket stages, and other miscellaneous pieces of celestial bodies that can be found throughout space.

But with the initiation of NASA’s Orbital Debris Program in 1979, “space debris” become the industry reference of all the dead pieces of hardware orbiting Earth. Space debris a growing issue that the government, academia, and companies are addressing. The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) is an inter-governmental coalition of 13 space agencies that are coordinating efforts around the world to track and mitigate space debris. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network is currently tracking more than 500,000 pieces of debris. Space actors are most worried about space debris in low Earth orbit and the Kessler syndrome cascade proposed by NASA scientists Donald J. Kessler in 1978. This describes a scenario in which the high-speed impact of two pieces of space debris creates more debris, which would lead to the impact of other pieces of debris, more collisions, and a runaway cascade of compounding debris. Kessler predicted such a cascade would render access to space almost impossible for decades.

Learn more

  1. NASA | Orbital Debris Program Office. Accessed 23 October 2018. [Web]
  2. European Space Agency | Space Debris. Accessed 23 October 2018. [Web]
  3. Scientific American/Nature. “The Quest to Conquer Earth’s Space Junk Problem.” Alexandra Witze. 8 September 2018.