Houston, We Have a Trash Problem

Sean Cooper
Wired Magazine, issue 15.05

Outer space is becoming a garbage heap. Some 15,000 pieces of debris, ranging from fingernail-sized paint flecks to 10-ton rocket stages, are hurtling through Earth’s orbit at 5 miles per second — about 10 times as fast as a speeding bullet. And the junk is multiplying, Asteroids-like, as large objects break apart into smaller ones. (China’s recent anti-satellite test has hastened the process.) Scientists warn of an approaching Kessler syndrome: the point at which flotsam from collisions makes future space ventures dangerous. How can we clean up the mess? The trick is to either grab shrapnel or coax it toward the planet, where it will burn up in the atmosphere. Several methods of trash collection have been floated. Some are cleverly low tech; others seem like fodder for the Sci Fi Channel.


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