Rise in space junk could provoke armed conflict say scientists

Jan 23, 2016

Photo credit: European Space Agency/Rex Feat

By Ian Sample

The steady rise in space junk that is floating around the planet could provoke a political row and even armed conflict, according to scientists, who warn that even tiny pieces of debris have enough energy to damage or destroy military satellites.

Researchers said fragments of spent rockets and other hurtling hardware posed a “special political danger” because of the difficulty in confirming that an operational satellite had been struck by flying debris and had not fallen victim to an intentional attack by another nation.

Space agencies in the US and Russia track more than 23,000 pieces of space junk larger than 10cm, but estimates suggest there could be half a billion fragments ranging from one to 10cm, and trillions of even smaller particles.

The junk poses the greatest danger to satellites in low Earth orbit, where debris can slam into spacecraft at a combined speed of more than 30,000mph. This realm of space, which stretches from 100 to 1200 miles above the surface, is where most military satellites are deployed.

In a report to be published in the journal Acta Astronautica, Vitaly Adushkin at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow writes that impacts from space junk, especially on military satellites, posed a “special political danger” and “may provoke political or even armed conflict between space-faring nations. The owner of the impacted and destroyed satellite can hardly quickly determine the real cause of the accident.”


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5 comments on “Rise in space junk could provoke armed conflict say scientists

  • I have this kernel of a plot for a novel, where my protagonist, an autistic boy who’s “Thing” is tracking satellites, finds a satellite he couldn’t account for. Order. Spreadsheets. Sorted. Classified. He asks NASA and the Russians and everyone else he can think of about the satellite but they all dismiss him as an idiot.

    Apart from one Australian scientist at the Parkes Radio Telescope who shares the boys mild autism (Of course the hero is Australian) who does some checking and finds the satellite is not from earth. We are being watched. Roll the plot forward through our hero’s plugging away at getting recognition for the origin of the satellite, (Not sure how to write this yet) and we end up with a planet earth, all looking up, instead of at each other. The moral to the story.

    Copyright David R Allen



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  • The steady rise in space junk that is floating around the planet could provoke a political row and even armed conflict, according to scientists, who warn that even tiny pieces of debris have enough energy to damage or destroy military satellites.

    Never mind the military satellites, – The junk can damage weather satellites, SAT-NAV satellites, communication satellites and manned craft!

    Not only that, but with every collision and fragmentation, the number of pieces of junk multiply!



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