Space is a big, empty place, with a lot of potentials to cause problems. And this is why so many countries have put effort into preventing collisions between satellites and other orbiting debris. Recently, Russia launched an anti-satellite test that destroyed an old satellite, creating thousands of pieces of debris in orbit. But while space debris may not be the biggest issue facing humanity, it is an issue nonetheless. So, with that in mind, just how bad is Russian space debris? Let’s take a look.
What is Russia Doing About Space Debris?
On 15 November 2021, U.S. officials announced that they had detected 1,500 trackable pieces of debris, and many thousands of smaller ones that cannot be traced in orbit near Earth. Later, it was confirmed that the threatening debris field came from Russia’s ASAT test to destroy their old Cosmos 1408 satellite. Anti-satellite weapons or ASATs are weapons that can temporarily impair or permanently destroy a satellite.
The unexpected test has caused considerable concern about space security. The debris cloud in the orbit is threatening the safety of astronauts on the International Space Station. The Russian space debris is now also a hazard to commercial communications satellites.
How Bad is Space Debris?
The addition of Russian space debris to Earth's orbit will add to the more than 9,600 tons of debris already orbiting our planet, as per European Space Agency.
According to a report by NASA, at least 26,000 of the pieces of space junk orbiting the Earth are the size of a softball or larger - large enough to cause serious damage to a satellite; more than 500,000 pieces of debris are marble-sized - capable of damaging spacecraft, while over 100 million pieces are the size of a grain of salt that could puncture a spacesuit.
The risk of debris in Earth orbit and beyond poses a greater danger to astronauts in space. It could destroy their spacecraft or cause it to malfunction. Also, it could damage satellites that provide critical communication services to Earth.
Space debris is a growing problem, with the number of satellites currently in orbit increasing. To keep space debris at a minimum, we must work together on multiple fronts to both eliminate existing debris and prevent the generation of future debris.