Space debris orbiting Earth 'has reached tipping point'

Last Updated: Fri, Sep 02, 2011 14:03 hrs

Washington: A new report has warned that the amount of space debris orbiting the Earth is at the tipping point and can cause fatal leaks in spaceships or destroy satellites.

About 22,000 pieces of debris, which includes clouds of minuscule fragments, old boosters and satellites, flies around the Earth at a speed of up to 17,500 metre per hour.

The National Research Council report called for international regulations to limit the debris and initiating intensive research into the possible use of launching large magnetic nets or giant umbrellas to wipe out debris.

The amount of orbital rubbish "has reached a tipping point, with enough currently in orbit to continually collide and create even more debris, raising the risk of spacecraft failures," the National Research Council said.

According to the BBC, two space incidents were a major setback to the efforts of limiting the amount of space junk.

The 2007 anti-satellite weapon test smashed a decommissioned weather satellite, rendering bout 150,000 pieces of debris over one centimeter.

Two satellites - one defunct and one active - crashed in orbit in 2009, creating even more debris.

"Those two single events doubled the amount of fragments in Earth orbit and completely wiped out what we had done in the last 25 years," a retired National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) scientist Donald Kessler said.

The report, however, made no recommendations on how to clean up the debris.

But it refereed to the Pentagon's science think-tank, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) study titled 'Catcher's Mitt' which had suggested a range of technologies, including harpoons, nets and an umbrella-shaped device to sweep up the debris.

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