Even a place as big as Earth’s upper atmosphere can get awfully cluttered after five decades of satellite activity.
The World-Herald’s Steve Liewer reports that the Air Force is now tracking some 22,000 pieces of debris buzzing around our planet at speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour.
Man-made devices have been hurtling above us for so long that the upper atmosphere is now awash not only with active satellites but also with aging satellites that have nodded off into obsolescence. Then there are the sundry shards from collisions (2,100 pieces resulted from one such smashup) and China’s brilliant idea of blasting an old weather satellite (result: nearly 3,400 bits of new space junk).
All the while, the number of countries entering space activity continues to climb. Liewer reports that some 14 countries are now tossing satellites skyward, as are more than 40 international groups.
By 2030 the amount of satellites and space debris is expected to triple, according to the Air Force Space Command.
This isn’t a minor matter. In the modern world, satellites are indispensable for communication and weather monitoring. Our military depends on the devices for our national security. There’s a common international interest to see that space-borne items — operational satellites as well as outright junk — are properly monitored.
Enter the U.S. Strategic Command. Liewer reports that StratCom commendably has signed agreements with 37 private entities and two countries (Japan and Australia) to exchange information so that the movement of space material can be tracked. More agreements are forthcoming.
“Playing traffic cop in space,” to use Liewer’s phrase, is complicated but important work. Kudos to StratCom for helping address this vital need.