In a unique case of space bumper cars, two pieces of rocket hardware have collided high above Earth. The orbital run-in involved a 31-year-old U.S. rocket body and a fragment from a more recently launched Chinese rocket stage.
Looking into the future, the Orbital Debris Quarterly News adds this sobering note:
“As the number of objects in Earth orbit increases, the likelihood of accidental collisions will also increase. Currently, hundreds of close approaches…between cataloged objects occur on a daily basis. If future spacecraft and rocket bodies are not removed from LEO within a moderate amount of time after the end of mission, e.g., within 25 years, the rate of accidental collisions will increase markedly later in this century.”
Now, when people talk about space debris, I think more often than not most people get the image of shards of metal floating aimlessly around in space. Sure, at the speeds they travel that can be dangerous. But, that’s not exactly what NASA’s concerning itself with. Picture the damage something like this can cause travelling at 20,000 miles per hour.
Now, remember that a piece of foam destroyed the last Shuttle.
Something needs to be done about space debris. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.