- Tens of thousands of objects have been shot into space since the beginning of the space race.
- Most objects are pieces of space debris that travel at a speed of approximately 17,500 mph.
- The US government maintains an online catalog of what countries are responsible for the objects in orbit around Earth and what you are.
- Russia, the United States and China have created and deprived the largest space
China's first space station, called Tiangong-1 or "Heavenly Palace", will go up in flames on or about April 1st.
But the 9.4-ton spacecraft is just one of thousands of tall people. made objects hissing around the earth at about 17,500 miles per hour, or about 10 times faster than a speed-acceleration orb.
That's not good.
The more objects there are in orbit – particularly large, uncontrolled space stations missile parts and dead satellites – the greater the chances of a catastrophic chain reaction of collisions and debris formation is called Kessler syndrome. Such a catastrophe could block large parts of space for generations of astronauts and new satellites.
"These debris can remain there for hundreds of years," said Bill Ailor, an aerospace engineer who works for the nonprofit aerospace corporation, previously Business Insider, adding that objects in higher orbits (eg, geostationary satellites ) Earth has been orbiting for thousands of years.
Fortunately, the Space Surveillance Network (SSN), with ground-based radar stations and optical telescopes and some space observatories, is looking for satellites and space debris.
Right now, it's tracking about 23,000 objects larger than a softball over the earth, and about 14,000 of them are uncontrolled – and are at risk of creating more debris.
Which countries bring the most stuff into space
Most of the objects are in a near-Earth orbit, about 25 miles above the planet. Fewer satellites are launched on geostationary orbits or about 22,300 miles high.
But what goes up usually comes down in space. The extreme atmosphere of the earth drags and slows down objects over time, causing them to fall, burn and, in some cases, tumble into the ocean or land.
SSN's publicly available orbital tracking data is fed into the SpaceTrack.org site (registration required), which is mandated by the US Strategic Command.
Here are the top 10 countries and organizations with the most space objects and what they are based on data downloaded on March 28, 2018:
Russia has the most stuff in space with 6,512 objects in orbit. The USA comes second with 6,262 objects.
Considering that rocket bodies are a kind of big space debris, Russia with 4,994 uncontrolled objects is probably the messiest in space. The US ranks second with 4,684 uncontrolled objects.
China has recently increased its space program, but it is in a near third with 3,601 scores of space junk; This is because the nation destroyed one of its own satellites in 2007 in an anti-satellite weapons test.
Satellite consortiums such as Intelsat, SES, and Globalstar are among the top 10, though they are relatively small space junk contributors, as most of their objects are active satellites.
Space-Track.org also shows which countries make the most stuff out of space:
Russia is a clear historical winner with 21,661 objects that have crashed to Earth. The US has killed about 12,453 about half as much deorbited stuff.
China, a relative newcomer to spacecraft that launched its first satellite in 1970, has lost some 5,213 objects to a fiery demise.
Everything Space-Track.org lists is only a small fraction of the total number of objects.
According to the European Space Agency, there are 670,000 pieces of debris larger than a fingernail, and perhaps 170 million debris larger than 1 millimeter – objects such as paint stains and explosive fragments on rockets.
How to Clean the Outer Space
In order to prevent the formation of space debris, it is important to retire old spacecraft, and many space agencies and corporations now build spacecraft with systems to remove them from orbit.
But Ailor and others are anxious to promote the development of new technologies and methods that can intercept, pack, haul, and otherwise remove the old, uncontrolled stuff that is there and continues to be a threat.
"I suggested something like an XPRIZE or a Grand Challenge, where would you identify three spaceships and give an entity a prize to remove those things," he said.
However, the biggest hurdle in the fight against space debris is probably human.
"It's not just a technical problem – this idea of ownership is becoming a real player here," said Ailor. "No other nation, for example, has permission to touch a US satellite, and if we're looking for a satellite … it could even be considered a war effort."
Ailor said that someone has to bring nations together to agree on a treaty that will provide sea-like rescue rights for dead or uncontrollable objects in space.
"There must be something in which nations and commercial authorities have some authority to do something," he said.