It’s been 58 years since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik—the first of many artificial Earth satellites. Sputnik was just slightly larger than a basketball, and the orbit was only 359 miles above the Earth. Since that time, many satellites, both large and small, have been launched to survey the Universe, enhance global telecommunications, transport astronauts and cosmonauts to the International Space Station and even send men to land on the Moon. While many satellites revolve around the Earth, some are geosynchronous, such as those that maintain fixed positions above Earth, as they provide vital weather data, and perhaps monitor other nations’ activities.
So, what do we do with all of that debris once it has depleted its useful life? Really, have we done much of anything at all? To an extent, our planet’s space rubble is similar to the plastic continents, of water bottles and the like, that have been forming in our oceans on Earth. Besides that mass of space debris, what happens when collisions occur, say really big ones?
Over the years, there have been numerous sightings of fireballs streaking toward earth, presumably due to small asteroids, or one of these used-up satellites. Perhaps it’s not a problem if it burns-up in the atmosphere…or is it? Also, what about the ones that are too large to disintegrate as they approach Earth?
Sure, the recent Climate Change Summit in Paris has brought hope to finally—BELATEDLY—clean-up our environment. And, there have also been numerous stories of successes in renewable energy, here on Earth. But, what about the Space Environment above us? What are we, could be, should be doing about it?
NOTE: The linked one-minute video shows the build-up of Space Pollution over the past years, since the first Sputnik was launched: http://news.sciencemag.org/space/2015/12/video-watch-60-years-space-junk-accumulate-1-minute