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Clutter in our orbit

Posted Aug 06 2010 12:00am
I bought the most recent issue of Popular Science about two weeks ago, not a magazine I usually buy or even notice, but this issue had and article on the future of helper robots which looked interesting. Surprisingly, that wasn't the article that stuck in my head.

There is also an article about the debris in space. Yes, we have cluttered up our planet with garbage and have extended that clutter to space. Apparently the existing rule for sending stuff into space is that the object must have the capability to push itself or be pushed out of orbit within 30 years of launch. But now there is just too much stuff up there. Some of this stuff is merrily crashing into other bits of stuff which just creates more debris...which collides with debris and creates more debris...see the problem?

Some stats include: 20,000 items larger than 4 inches, 500,000 man made items larger than 0.4", little pieces traveling at 24,480 mph, and the smallest piece of debris that could kill an astronaut is 0.04". So, there's a bit of a concern.

What isn't helping is that not every country has provided details of what they have in orbit and different countries define 'debris' differently. Like, what appears to be a dead satellite could be just hibernating for now. So getting other countries to clean up their stuff might be difficult, and it might take some time for the different countries to decide on what exactly is debris and how to get rid of it.

The article does mention five different ways to get rid of some of the clutter, three of the ideas would take five years to implement, one would take 18 months and one could be used sooner (lasers) but is too controversial for political reasons. So. We have crap orbiting our planet but we can't seem to get rid of it soon enough. I wonder if anyone thought of this when we started hurling stuff up there?

What stuck in my mind is a question not posed in the article, but worthy of thought. Namely, could global warming be caused by the sun's rays reflecting off all the debris in space and heating up our atmosphere? Has anyone considered this possibility or is it just too ridiculous to consider?
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