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Space Debris: a growing threat for astronauts, satellites

Space debris populations seen from outside geosynchronous orbit.

The space between the Earth and the Moon is filled with all kinds of trash, ranging from the mundane, such as burnt out rocket casings and broken satellites, to the bizarre, including a spacesuit.

Unlike junk on Earth, which gets picked up and hauled to a recycling station or a dump, the junk in space circles the Earth for years and years until it slams into something, creating yet more debris.

Space debris or orbital debris, also called space junk and space waste, are the objects in obit around Earth created by humans, and that no longer serve any useful purpose. They consist of everything from entire spent rocket stages and defunct satellites to explosion fragments, paint flakes, dust, and slag from solid rocket motors, coolant and other small particles.

Space junk has become a growing concern in recent years, since collisions at orbital velocities can be highly damaging to functional satellites and can also produce even more space debris in the process. This is called the Kessler Syndrome.

Some spacecraft, like the International Space Station, are now armored to mitigate damage from this hazard. Astronauts on space-walks are also vulnerable.  -- Courtesy: NASA/ Wikipedia

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