Space pollution: a growing threat to our planet and our future

Space pollution: a growing threat to our planet and our future

Space pollution, also known as space debris or space junk, is the term used to describe the defunct human-made objects that orbit the Earth, such as satellites, rocket stages, and fragments from collisions or explosions. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), there are more than 34,000 objects larger than 10 cm and millions of smaller ones in orbit, travelling at speeds of up to 28,000 km/h.

Space pollution poses a serious risk to the safety and sustainability of space activities, as well as to the environment and the climate of the Earth. Even a small piece of debris can cause damage or destroy a functioning satellite or spacecraft, resulting in the loss of valuable services and data, as well as creating more debris. In 2009, a collision between an active US satellite and a defunct Russian satellite generated more than 2,000 pieces of debris.

Space pollution also affects the Earth’s atmosphere and climate, as some debris re-enter and burn up, releasing harmful substances such as aluminium oxide, which can alter the chemistry and temperature of the upper atmosphere. Moreover, some debris can survive the re-entry and impact the ground, posing a threat to people and property. In 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite test that created more than 3,000 pieces of debris, one of which crashed into a village in Sudan in 2018.

Space pollution is a global problem that requires international cooperation and regulation. Several initiatives and measures have been taken by various actors to mitigate and prevent the creation of more debris, such as improving the design and operation of satellites, implementing guidelines and standards for debris mitigation, developing technologies and methods for debris removal and disposal, and enhancing the monitoring and tracking of debris.

However, more efforts and actions are needed to address the challenge of space pollution, as the number and diversity of space actors and activities increase, and the demand for space resources and services grows. Space pollution is not only a technical issue, but also a legal, political, and ethical one, that involves the rights and responsibilities of all stakeholders, as well as the protection and preservation of the common heritage of humankind.

Space pollution is a serious threat to our planet and our future, and we must act now to ensure that space remains safe and accessible for all.

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