How many satellites have deteriorated in space

Whether "space debris" or "space debris": there is too much of it

Bremen - As early as 1978, the American astronomer Donald J. Kessler warned that space missions could become increasingly difficult for future generations. The reason: the increase in space debris, i.e. the remains of former missions that are in orbit and pose a high risk due to their speed.

"There is now a lot of space debris flying around. We prefer the term to space waste," said ESA astronaut and coordinator Thomas Reiter at the 32nd Bremen Business Forum. Regardless of the name, the unpleasant development has unfortunately actually advanced: satellites in space would have to fly evasive maneuvers more and more frequently in order to avoid collisions and damage. This situation has worsened significantly in the past decades and will continue to do so in a dramatic way in the future, reported Reiter.

Multiplication of satellites

Around 8,000 satellites have been launched since the beginning of the space age, of which around 1,800 are still active. A large part has already entered the earth's atmosphere. In the next five to six years alone, however, it is to be expected that over 50,000 satellites will be launched into space. "In other words, a multiple of what was started in the entire space age." It is about the security of the important space-based infrastructure. We urgently need to think about this, and the European Space Agency is also taking up this point.

As a warning signal, there is an - initially still hypothetical - effect in the background, which was named after Kessler: The Kessler syndrome describes a scenario in which the debris from collisions collide with other objects. This could result in a cascade of ever more and ever smaller rubble that can no longer be brought under control. That would not envelop the earth in an impenetrable cloud of debris, but it would make it extremely difficult to operate satellites in the currently most common orbits. (red, APA, November 21, 2019)