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NASA Warns of Cluttered Space

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the watch-out-for-that-tree dept.

Space 358

Ant wrote to mention a National Geographic article looking at the cluttered nature of Near-Earth Orbit. From the article: "Since the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik I satellite in 1957, humans have been generating space junk. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network is currently tracking over 13,000 human-made objects larger than four inches (ten centimeters) in diameter orbiting the Earth. These include both operational spacecraft and debris such as derelict rocket bodies. 'Of the 13,000 objects, over 40 percent came from breakups of both spacecraft and rocket bodies,'Johnson said."

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Alright, let's get this out of the way... (0, Offtopic)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520167)

NASA hopes to send a team of the world's best garbage men into space to collect this trash. Luckily for them, that's Ben Affleck's current occupation.

The enforced labor works with the prison system on highways, why can't it work in space?

Oh, I'm sure it's not all space junk, I'm sure there's some capsules containing rhesus monkey skeletons smearing their dying words on the glass of their cockpits with their fecal matter.

Simple solution, sell each item on eBay "as is" for very cheap. Then issue arrest warrants out for the winning bidders and demand they remove their trash from the perfect ecosystem of space.

If aliens could see our planet, would we be the white trash of the universe? With our garbage strewn about our front yard, four cars in our backyard that aren't mobile and a house that is?

Blame it on the Soviet Union and act like we're doing the rest of the world a huge favor by cleaning it up? ... oh, wait, it's not funny if we're actually going to do it.

Re:Alright, let's get this out of the way... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520204)

Try ritalin.

first ob. geeky "Quark" reference (2, Funny)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520263)

I'll take the job, as long as they send Betty1 and Betty2 [snowcrest.net] along!

Re:first ob. geeky "Quark" reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520497)

Good grief you idiot mods! "Overrated" doesn't mean "I'm too young to get the joke".

Re:Alright, let's get this out of the way... (3, Funny)

MadTinfoilHatter (940931) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520245)

"The enforced labor works with the prison system on highways, why can't it work in space?"


Because the crime rate might skyrocket when people try to get thrown into jai^H^H^H space?

Ok. I don't think my karma can take any more bad puns... :-P

Re:Alright, let's get this out of the way... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520315)

Well, only if they get a return ticket. Remember how Australia was colonized? You could do the same with space ...

Re:Alright, let's get this out of the way... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520323)

"Oh, I'm sure it's not all space junk, I'm sure there's some capsules containing rhesus monkey skeletons smearing their dying words on the glass of their cockpits with their fecal matter."

Thanx for the laugh and the resulting coffee stains on my computer monitor.

Re:Alright, let's get this out of the way... (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520537)

Blame it on the Soviet Union and act like we're doing the rest of the world a huge favor by cleaning it up?

In Soviet Russia, space garbage cleans you... ...at over 11,000 mph on impact.

Human nature? (5, Insightful)

JonN (895435) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520174)

This is another example to the classic problem humans have with looking towards the future. I don't need to list more than a few examples such as our own garbage problem, pollution, and a teenager doing drugs that will ruin the rest of his life. Although it is true that it is sometimes hard to predict what will happen, aren't we at an age (including the last 50 years) where we can somewhat guesstimate an end result?

Currently, and since its conception, the world's space programs have been based on the model that we can just leave shit we don't need in space. Where were the great minds of NASA to say "Wait...what is going to happen with the rocket parts we are leaving out there." We already knew of gravity and orbits, so the idea that perhaps the stuff would just fly away doesn't seem plausible.

Us as a race, and us as the most influential countries, must look to the future, and I do see improvements, however many issues as well. We do not live in a one generation world, this is a place which we must sustain indefinately (until we find a new host planet of course).

Looking towards the future (3, Insightful)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520322)

If the objects are in near-earth orbit, then at some point it the future their orbits should all decay into the earth's atmosphere, at which point they will incinerate themselves. Sounds like a self-correcting problem to me! The only question is: when? Anybody have any guesses on how long it will take all this junk to deorbit if we just leave it alone?

Re:Looking towards the future (1)

yo_tuco (795102) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520458)

"Sounds like a self-correcting problem to me!"

Did you RTFA?

The new study, in contrast, looks at what would happen to the amount of space junk if no rocket bodies or spacecraft were launched in the next 200 years.

Apparently, the current junk out there will create more junk by colliding with itself. How long for it all to be gone? Dunno. I imagine it's a function of each objects size, speed and orbit.

Re:Looking towards the future (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520503)

LEO's pretty fast (hours to years), but for specifics, it really depends on the orbit and the object. A lightweight object with a large cross section at a 180km orbit may take only a day to reenter. A heavy object with a small cross section at 450 km may stay up for a decade.

Unfortunately (assuming my simulations are correct), orbits tend not to decay circularly. Rather, they tend to become more elliptical until the orbit finally intersects the atmosphere enough that it can't escape. Thus, you can't count on them being in too low of an orbit for you to collide with them as their orbit decays.

Now, GEO's a whole different story. Things in GEO tend to stay up, but they tend to not stay where you want them to stay ;)

"Star Trek" Solution to Space Garbage (5, Funny)

reporter (666905) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520394)

On 2005 August 24, Slashdot reported that Washington is working to develop laser cannons (i.e. "phasers"). [slashdot.org]

On 2006 January 5, Slashdot reported that Washington is working to develop warp engines [slashdot.org] .

Perhaps, now would be the right time to work on developing shields. They could protect starships from both phasers and space garbage. Is anyone developing shields?

Turn the problem on its head... (3, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520177)

...that's what the Bishop always said...

The key to solving this problem is to not look on it as a problem at all, but rather, as an opportunity. 'Space junk' is a bit of a misnomer....the only reason it's considered 'junk' is because no one has figured out a way to collect and reuse it. When they do, the name will change to something more along the lines of 'space salvage'.

Certainly, some types of space salvage (derelict rockets, satellite fragments, etc.) will have a higher value than others (paint flecks, rocket slag, etc.), but even the lowliest dist speck will have value, for the simple reason that it is there. Considerable time, money, and energy was invested is putting all this 'junk' into orbit, and before we blithely start to squander more time, money, and energy deorbiting them, perhaps we should consider the possibility of putting them to use where they are now.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (2, Interesting)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520209)

Also, a lot of this stuff has gold in it, being that it is the most reflective material on earth, it is most often used in sheets to reflect solar radiation. I know there is still bunches on the moon at least.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (4, Insightful)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520228)

Yeah, dude, I'm going to spend $10,000/kg to lift myself up to orbit to go and collect paint chips. They're so valuable, because, like, because they're there, man.

While I'm up there, I'm sure I won't cause any additional space junk, either.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (0, Flamebait)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520292)


Yeah, dude, I'm going to spend $10,000/kg to lift myself up to orbit to go and collect paint chips.

Well...that's certainly a stupid proposition...is that truly the limit of your imagination? "Lift myself up to orbit to go and collect paint chips"?
It's fortunate we're not counting on you for a solution here.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (4, Insightful)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520419)

You obviously don't understand the problem.

If it costs $10,000/kg to lift something to LEO, then how are you going to make any money off of salvaging this stuff? How many substances can you name that are worth the $10,000/kg needed to offset the cost of lifting a salvage collector into orbit?

How is the collector supposed to do its thing up there without having a mishap that will cause even more orbiting debris?

You can't use magnets to collect everything, it's not all magnetic debris. You can't physically catch stuff, it's too tiny and matching velocities with every little speck in order to capture them is unfeasible. Even if we managed to put up a space elevator to bring down the cost-to-orbit of a salvage collector, you still have a problem of matching vectors with every little piece of debris you want to capture.

There might be solutions for this problem, but salvaging it is not going to be economically feasible. Not unless you can convince a collector's market that the stuff is worth way more than it actually is, like with baseball cards.

No, the real value will be in clearing out a safe launch corridor, or providing that as a service -- not in the stuff you bring back.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (1)

Pyromage (19360) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520535)

Come now, you're not thinking in the big picture.

First, when is it a problem? True, this stuff is always a danger. However, until we have a large number of people in space regularly (which is likely to happen eventually), the risk will probably be fairly slim, because even with thousands of items up there, there's a lot of space and very few ships.

Now, when there's people up there regularly, then the problem of salvage is much different. It's no longer "I need to pay $10k/kg to get up there to get paint flecks" but "I could pay $10k/kg to drag up new solar shielding, or I could just leave my space station and pick some up from next door". When you've a large industrial complex up there, it's all of a sudden much more worthwhile.

Now this may not be exactly how it goes down, but consider that at $10,000/kg, the value of the stuff is in that it's already there, not in bringing it back.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (2, Interesting)

interiot (50685) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520430)

Okay, look at it another way. How many missions have there been that tried to recover material from space? How many were successful? How much extra did they spend to add the physical recovery capability? Per Genesis [wikipedia.org] , material recovery is currently a fairly tricky and expensive thing to accomplish.

Yes, there are numerous ways to retrieve material (see the Long Duration Exposure Facility [wikipedia.org] ), but AFAIK, all of them are quite expensive. Something that moves material into a graveyard orbit, or otherwise moves it out of the way of important stuff [wikipedia.org] is probably a much more efficient idea.

(as a sideline, saying that something that anything can be economical enough if people just used their imagination is a little silly... while imagination can make the impossible into the possible, you still have to always compare the cost of doing something one way versus doing it another... and there's always going to be a cheapest way to do something, no matter how much imagination you apply to a problem)

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (2, Funny)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520551)

The solution presents itself:

1. Send up rocket to collect space junk and bring it back to earth.

2. Look at said space junk for any resemblance to the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, or anyone else famous.

3. ????

4. Sell said space junk to Golden Palace [goldenpalace.com] . Profit!

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (2, Insightful)

whawk640 (848562) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520283)

You might be right TripMaster Monkey, we could probably salvage some of it... My question is, don't we have the technology now for the entity that's tracking this stuff, whether it be NASA or NORAD, can't they just point a big laser at it and give it a boost in orbital altitude and velocity?

I suppose in near Earth orbit, there's still a lot of the earth's gravity to overcome, but the idea seems feasible to me with some of the headlines I've been reading about improved and miniaturized lazers. Granted you'd have to defocus these strong military beams a bit to avoid vaporizing the junk.

http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/08/2 4/2013240 [slashdot.org]

10% of all silly ideas get implemented... 90 % of those are crap, but the other 10% change the world.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520453)

can't they just point a big laser at it

And they could name it the Alan Parsons Project!

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (2, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520307)


the only reason it's considered 'junk' is because no one has figured out a way to collect and reuse it


I feel the same way about toxic waste dumps. If someone would just figure out a way to use all that waste, it'd be a goldmine! No need to worry about it leaking toxic waste into groundwater, because surely someone will figure out a way to make a profit from cleaning them up.

Hoping someone finds a way to re-use what was once considered trash isn't an approach to the problem. How much of this stuff is even worth anything if you could somehow find a cheap way of bringing it back to earth un-damaged?

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (2, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520350)


How much of this stuff is even worth anything if you could somehow find a cheap way of bringing it back to earth un-damaged?

You're misunderstanding me. Currently it costs something on the order of $10,000 per kilogram to get an object into orbit. Even the lowliest of space junk is worth quite a bit, as this cost has already been paid. Bringing it back to earth, even if you could do it for free, would be a monumental waste of money.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (4, Insightful)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520362)

if you could somehow find a cheap way of bringing it back to earth un-damaged?

This phrase alone suggests that you failed to understand the concept. The point isn't to find a use for this stuff back on EARTH- but rather to find a use for it where it is, in orbit. Raw material for new rooms on the International Space Station perhaps?

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520432)


Raw material for new rooms on the International Space Station perhaps?


You're kidding, right? Unless you want to put a foundry to melt metal, , something else to fold it into usefull shapes, oh, and welding equipment to put it together in the space station, I don't think raw materials for anything in space is a viable answer. The whole idea that a used 30 year old rocket motor is going to be usefull for someone in a damn space station is ridiculous. It's even more ridiculous than someone on earth trying to re-use the rocket motor.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (1)

ShadowBlasko (597519) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520542)

Why change its shape?

I know the whole thing is a very far fetched goofy idea, but if you collect the larger pieces, and they were moved to an orbit similar in relative speed to the the station (or satellite) could it not be used, in current form, as a type of ablative sheilding?

I know, goofy... but I was looking for a bright side to that.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520401)

Junk in orbit is junk, just like junk on Earth is junk. What sort of reclamation do you expect to do in orbit, without any sort of manufacturing capability to process the materials? Your posts simply scream 'borderline-retarded alpha male wannabe'. It's no wonder your wife needs to get the bone on the side.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (1)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520523)


Junk in orbit is junk, just like junk on Earth is junk.

Uh oh....better not tell that to these people [ca.gov] ...

What sort of reclamation do you expect to do in orbit, without any sort of manufacturing capability to process the materials?

This is possibly the most retarded thing I've read here all week. This is akin to saying 'how am I gonna get all these apples across this river without a bridge'? Solution: build a bridge. Yes, it will require a capital investment, but it will have to be built anyway, so rather than ship up raw materials at 10K/kg, why not use what's at hand. (Slight flaw in my analogy - space debris, unlike apples, do not go bad, so one collect it and stockpile it long before the manufacturing capability was in place.)

Good luck making it economical (3, Interesting)

everphilski (877346) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520466)

Certainly, some types of space salvage (derelict rockets, satellite fragments, etc.) will have a higher value than others (paint flecks, rocket slag, etc.), but even the lowliest dist speck will have value, for the simple reason that it is there.

I understand the argument from the standpont that it cost money to put the salvage into orbit. However "collecting" may wind up costing you more than the fragment itself weighs. Consider: Even if you make it up to LEO for free, you have to get to the item and match your position and velocity in the direction the space salvage is traveling to a degree where you (or your robot, whatever) can grab it. Of course you have to abide by the ideal rocket equation http://exploration.grc.nasa.gov/education/rocket/r ktpow.html [nasa.gov] . Great. You got your first piece. Now you have to change heading and velocity to intercept piece #2. These vectors aren't all heading in the same direction at the same location. And they are only tracking about 13,000 pieces in NEO ... that's not very many pieces given the vast area of space there is! Consider 13,000 random objects on the surface of the earth, now extend it upwards a hundred meters, and add a volume of 1000m in the vertical direction. Long story short, you can't turn a profit given the fact that you need fuel to power the robot to collect this stuff. And given the fact that commercial ventures are starting to break the price point barrier - check out spaceX - 10k a kg will drop an order of magnitude in the next 10 years, easy.

Re:Turn the problem on its head... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520492)

yes, because we all know that once youre in orbit moving around & changing orbit costs nothing.

This stuff is all flying around in different directions, at different speeds, and at different altitudes. Gathering it up would be no small feat. Its not like its all in one big pile somewhere & you can just sweep it up with a broom.

Putting stuff in orbit costs a lot of money, yes. So does taking it out of orbit. So does changing it from one orbit to another. Doing ANYTHING in space is extremely expensive.

IMHO (4, Funny)

Premo_Maggot (864012) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520179)

I really think it matters if we use space as a garbage dump, there's still more space!

Breakdown by Country (5, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520193)

Space.com [space.com] has a breakdown of responsibility by country of some of the larger debris in space.

And if you're really hardcore into space debris (it's hard to even type that without laughing), Orbital Debris Quarterly News [nasa.gov] is your magazine!

Re:Breakdown by Country (2, Interesting)

TerenceRSN (938882) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520517)

Why does Luxembourg have 9 satellites? I find it odd that they'd have more than countries like Italy and Australia and that China has only 3 times as many. Does Luxembourg handle satellite launches for other European countries or companies as an alternative to the ESA?

Re:Breakdown by Country (2, Insightful)

paco3791 (786431) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520538)

Another axiom proved true.

"No matter what your interested in, no matter how esoteric you might think it is, there is a magazine about it."

Space Janitor (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520196)

A big laser mop, that's all I need.

What we need is ... (was:Space Janitor) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520333)

What we need is the Mega Maid (tm.) Switch her vacuum cleaner to SUCK and ... (for the more ... sophistication folks, this is a reference to Space Balls)

Roger Wilco! (2, Interesting)

XanC (644172) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520500)

What a great series of games [wikipedia.org] that was...

Re:Space Janitor (1)

kalbzayn (927509) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520549)

We really just need one of those big space service elevators.

interestingly (0, Offtopic)

revery (456516) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520199)

The U.S. Space Surveillance Network is currently tracking over 13,000 human-made objects larger than four inches (ten centimeters) in diameter

Or what is commonly referred to as the Nicole Ritchie threshold.

Dang, what would the Paris Hilton threshold be? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520264)

Scary.

my gym shorts (1)

Artie_Effim (700781) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520200)

are ou there, can someone please return them to me

Re:my gym shorts (1)

djward (251728) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520318)

mmm... Shorts...

My Solution (2, Funny)

alta (1263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520201)

Make everything heavier, so it will float back to earth quickly.

Or, make it lighter and 'launch' it at the sun, the great incenerator in the sky.

Yeah, I know, so don't bother telling me...

Re:My Solution (0, Flamebait)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520317)

Ohh, great idea. We already destroyed our planet earth. Now lets polute the sun too. Stupid American.

Planetes (1)

Masami Eiri (617825) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520207)

Sounds like a job for the Half Section. Too obscure?

Re:Planetes (1)

CptNerd (455084) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520255)

You beat me to it.

And it's "Debris Section," thank you very much!

^=====^

Re:Planetes (1)

lexarius (560925) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520326)

This post needs more moon ninjas.

ball it up (4, Interesting)

dirvish (574948) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520212)

Seems like you would have to collect everything into a big ball and then leave the ball up there. I can't imagine dragging a bunch of junk down through the atmosphere. One big ball of junk would be much easier to dodge than thousands of small (probably equally deadly) chunks.

Re:ball it up (3, Funny)

Sirfrummel (873953) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520257)

Sounds like a game of Katamari!

Re:ball it up (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520358)

Indeed. Roll it all up into a big ball and put it into the sky as a new star. Sounds like a good (and fun) plan to me.

Re:ball it up (2, Funny)

Tengoo (446300) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520301)

I'm with you here. Plus, should the giant junk ball become a threat to the planet somehow, we could simply build another one and launch it into the incoming ball of junk!

Re:ball it up (1)

kannibal_klown (531544) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520320)

If you're serious, then there's quite a flaw - when orbit eventually fails.

Think of ice. Take a 10-lb block of ice and leave it out on a Spring morning. Then take 10 pounds of ice cubes and shavings and leave them out on the same morning. Walk away.

Come back in a few hours. Chances are the 10-lb block of ice is still there and still big, while the pile of ice cubes and shavings have just about melted away. The large object can take a thermal pounding a lot easier than the same amount of material in smaller clumps can.

Upon reentry, most of the smaller stuff will burn away to nothing, with some of it becoming a baseball or golf ball sized object when it hits the earth. A satellite isn't THAT big, and by the time it passes through the atmosphere it's a lot smaller. Dangerous? Yes. But small enough that the damage is localized to a car window or house roof.

Now, imagine of all of the space chunk were collected into 1 or several large "balls." When they'd deorbit you'd have something the size of a house or an RV hitting the ground. That could take out a large building or perhaps a city block.

Re:ball it up (0)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520381)

Don't tell that to the military! :-)

Re:ball it up (0, Redundant)

AnswerIs42 (622520) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520325)

But then in 1000 years it will come back and destroy the earth.. unless they create a second ball of garbage to shoot at the first ball and knock it away.

Re:ball it up (3, Insightful)

Illserve (56215) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520357)

it's not so easy to collect them.

The real problem is the wildly different velocities of each different piece. These things are zooming along at bullet speeds, and some weigh more than an SUV. The problem is how one neutralizes these enormous differentials in kinetic energy.

If you tried to collect them in a ball by catching them, each new piece you intercepted would smack into it, creating 1000 new pieces of debris all with wildly random vectors of their own.

Perhaps if you had some kind of foamy goop that absorbed the energy... but it has to remain pliable in a frozen vacuum.

Re:ball it up (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520487)

So the moon might just be our precursers garbage dump? Who knew!?

Cleanup on aisle five (2, Insightful)

fak3r (917687) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520216)

You'd think these things would have been more thought out in the past, but judging by the shortsidedness of the current global warming fun (it was almost 70 in St. Louis yesterday) it isn't surprising. Seeing as how the last space shuttle disaster was caused by something hitting it, you'd think this would be a big risk, but it's a big sky and that's why they're monitoring those things. But hell, it'd keep me awake if I were on the shuttle/space station, most of that 'junk' is likely moving at a good clip, and what about things smaller than 4"? Are these 'rogue' things out there moving faster than a bullet headed towards the delecate skin of a ship? Hope they get it solved before the put the Howard Johnson hotel up there, can't wait for that! ;)

Re:Cleanup on aisle five (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520340)

As most objects orbit in the same direction (West to East I believe) Couldn't you put up a big net with a rigid body behind it that orbits east to west. Small objects that go throught he net would strike the rigid body and lose momentum. Only problem is you would need considerable rockets to reaccelerate the net as it would lose momentum as well.

Not exactly (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520356)

Hope they get it solved before the put the Howard Johnson hotel up there

First off, the guy making the space Hotel is Robert Bigelow so it'll be a Budget Suites of America. Secondly the vast majority of spacecraft are lauched from west to east to make use of the earths rotational velocity (roughly 400m/s at the equator). So most of those objects are moving - you guessed it - west to east. As is the space station, the shuttle, etc. If they are all moving in the same direction collision speeds aren't that high. Now there are a few rogue satellites that were lauched the other way for a variety of reasons so yes there are small amounts of space junk moving counter to the flow.

The other thing to keep in mind: 13,000 pieces of junk spread across a sphere bigger than the earth. LEO is 100-300km up, but GEO is 35,000km up. That's a huge hollowed out sphere of area for 13,000 pieces of "space junk", most of which is flowing in the same direction. And the stuff in LEO deorbits pretty quick because of the rarified atmosphere (the same reason we have to boost the space station 1-2 times a year.) While there is a minor threat, it is just that - a minor one.

Re:Not exactly (1)

fak3r (917687) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520452)

>Hope they get it solved before the put the Howard Johnson hotel up there

>>>First off, the guy making the space Hotel is Robert Bigelow so it'll be a Budget Suites of America.

This is the hotel [palantir.net] I was refering to, just so ya know.

wasn't this already predicted... (1)

airdrummer (547536) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520375)

i vaguely recall a sci-fi story about the post-spaceage future, when spaceflight had 2 b abandoned due 2 the lethal amount of space junk...

Re:Cleanup on aisle five (1)

MalleusEBHC (597600) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520398)

but judging by the shortsidedness of the current global warming fun (it was almost 70 in St. Louis yesterday)

Wow. Really, just wow. Sorry, but I couldn't keep reading after you believe that the weather for one day in one city can anyway possibly be considered evidence for or against global warming.

Re:Cleanup on aisle five (1)

fak3r (917687) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520498)

Yep, I realized where I was and that a statement like that would loose some folks, but hey, be as close minded as you want, there are plenty of others like you. Talk to me in 50 years when our children are dealing with the problems that we ignored.

Solution to global warming (1)

JeffBartlett (945217) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520427)

So how long until there is enough junk up there to block a sufficient amount of the sun's heat and fix the global warming issue?

Re:Cleanup on aisle five (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520520)

You'd think these things would have been more thought out in the past

You make it sound like they planned to have things break or explode. A lot of the stuff that's considered "junk" up there is there by accident, not because we didn't think it through.

Are these 'rogue' things out there moving faster than a bullet headed towards the delecate skin of a ship?

Not really that big a deal as long as it's moving in the same direction that you are, is it? But, yes, there are.

Hey! Wake up over there! (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520547)

Hmm. Somehow I'm just not finding this +Insightful.

but judging by the shortsidedness of the current global warming fun (it was almost 70 in St. Louis yesterday) it isn't surprising

I'm not sure which "side" you're finding short. I suppose you mean shortsightedness, as in "not seeing clearly into the future." Ignoring that, let's take your comment into consideration and use another city's weather to see if you're making a good case. Hmmm... judging by the fact that it's a balmy -20F [breitbart.com] in Moscow, I'd say that we weren't planning ahead well enough for the coming ice age. What, one day's weather doesn't indicate a pattern? Oh.

And what were you thinking... that the people burning coal 100 years ago had a good solid grip on a mechanism that, even today, brilliant people armed with super computers are having trouble getting to the bottom of? Or did you mean people 20 years ago? Or last week?

Seeing as how the last space shuttle disaster was caused by something hitting it

It hit itself! Come on now. Do you even watch the non-nerd news? Even they reported that correctly.

See it for yourself (5, Informative)

Guysmiley777 (880063) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520217)

Java based orbit tracker courtesy of NASA:

http://science.nasa.gov/Realtime/JTrack/3D/JTrack3 D.html [nasa.gov]

Re:See it for yourself (1)

rbgaynor (537968) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520436)

Coding with assembly is like playing with Legos. Coding an application in assembly is like building a car with Legos.

You mean like this [gizmodo.com] ?

You think that's cluttered? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520224)

You should see the pile of quantum foam I cleaned out of my ears last night!

13,000...! (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520226)

The U.S. Space Surveillance Network is currently tracking over 13,000 human-made objects larger than four inches (ten centimeters) in diameter orbiting the Earth

I have trouble keeping track of my car keys, wallet, and house keys - and they're usually within 10 metres of me. Perhaps I need a House Surveillance Network - actually, scratch that...

Re:13,000...! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520312)

I have trouble keeping track of my car keys, wallet, and house keys - and they're usually within 10 metres of me. Perhaps I need a House Surveillance Network

Why reinvent the wheel? Just ask the NSA if you can use theirs.

First thought (3, Funny)

metamatic (202216) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520229)

"NASA Warns of Cluttered Space"--they've seen my office?

salvage on (2, Interesting)

JagRoth (115052) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520243)

All we need is someone to "builds a space ship from his scrap pile in order to retreive valuable parts left on the moon" and in space by Astronauts, the kind of thing you might find in a tv show [imdb.com] .

Re:salvage on (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520328)

Sounds like a job for Branson and Rutan's The Spaceship Company [scaled.com] . I doubt they can get Andy Griffith to fly it though.

More Information (-1, Offtopic)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520252)

NASA Scientists say that the remaining 60% of matter has been ejected from the headquarters of SCO.
The company has been spouting so much bullshit for the last few years it has become a problem for space travel.
So far, all of the turds throw out have been deflected by a custom shield of attack lawyers trained by IBM, however members of the well meaning Linux community have been assisting with the effort.

Armchair Rocket Scientists to the rescue! (2, Funny)

Illserve (56215) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520276)

Alright everyone, I'm sure we can figure out how to solve this problem in our spare time between meetings and system rebuilds. After all, there's no problem NASA thinks is insurmountable that we can't convince ourselves is easily solved.

Re:Armchair Rocket Scientists to the rescue! (1)

Jonathan_S (25407) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520370)

Alright everyone, I'm sure we can figure out how to solve this problem in our spare time between meetings and system rebuilds. After all, there's no problem NASA thinks is insurmountable that we can't convince ourselves is easily solved.
Sure its simple. At least for the stuff in fairly low orbit, which it was you care about.

Detonate large nukes just inside the atmosphere. This should create a bulge of atmosphere further into space than normal. As the objects run into this the higher atmospheric drag with cause them to deorbit more quickly.

The EMP burst and fallout are just minor implementation details. I'm sure engineering can have those solved next week.

So now for the important question, bagels or donuts for this meeting?

Re:Armchair Rocket Scientists to the rescue! (1)

Illserve (56215) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520449)

I knew we could figure it out. Good job.

Re:Armchair Rocket Scientists to the rescue! (1)

MrP-(at work) (839979) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520476)

How about a donut that IS a bagel?

Get the engineers working on that!

"THE" Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520296)

Yes, this is the solution to this problem. We send up a really, REALLY powerful electro-magnet and turn it on. It collects everything for us! Problem solved.

Also, another problem created in that it'll suck up all the USEFUL stuff like satellites, but you asked me how to solve the previous problem :)

Track, Capture, Recycle? (3, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520329)

I couldn't RTFA from my PDA. Are there private companies working on machines to try to capture these items? I'm sure it would be too expensive to ship back down to earth, but I wouldn't doubt that the raw materials might be worthy in a future moon or mars base.

It sounds like there might be some very valuable materials already in orbit, considering the cost to take up new materials on a launch. I'd love to see "the race to space" be over a bunch of competitive companies working to reclaim and reuse the junk.

Re:Track, Capture, Recycle? (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520511)

Are there private companies working on machines to try to capture these items? I'm sure it would be too expensive to ship back down to earth, but I wouldn't doubt that the raw materials might be worthy in a future moon or mars base.

Undoubtedly. All sorts of companies are vying to get in on the vast profits that will be generated by a moonbase. Sending paint chips and bolt fragments to the moon is going to be a veritable goldmine, and entrepreneurs are chomping at the bit to get in on the action.

fly paper (1)

KD7JZ (161218) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520336)

When I have heard about this problem before, I have thought why can't they orbit a couple of large (200') diameter pieces of very sticky something.. when enough stuff has collected the whole thing will de-orbit and burn up..

Re:fly paper (1)

jfields026 (947589) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520477)

Can you imagine a 200lb piece of fly paper flying through space at 17,000 mph and colliding into thousands of other objects moving the same speed but in other directions? I don't think there is a good solution out there, at least yet.

don't do anything until the first accident? (5, Insightful)

hakan2000 (945918) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520353)

I'll make a wild guess that, not many people will care about this problem for a loooong while, until a disasterous space accident is caused by space debris. And then there'll be ridiculous attempts to alleviate the problem, such as a 'kyoto protocol' of space debris, which won't be ratified by guess who. Who's with me?

Just out of curiosity (1)

binkzz (779594) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520369)

Why is NASA warning us of cluttered space? How are we to do anything about it? Isn't it NASA (and other equivalents) that cause this?

Space feces (1)

bluegreenturtle (865875) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520378)

How much of it is frozen poop from the shuttle and Mir?

How about something that will work? (1)

russianspy (523929) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520382)

Ok. So we can capture comet dust and bring it back to earth, right?

Why not take a whole bunch of that aerogel, and put it up in space in big shields? Maybe even have smaller robots that use it to actively collect larger pieces? Eventualy most of the small debris will stick to it and we can deal with smaller number of larger objects.

Earth has a ring of bullets (1)

spyrochaete (707033) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520402)

Please excuse me for not having proof to back this up, but I heard on TV once that, due to the contesting gravitational pulls of the Earth, the moon, and the sun, that this debris accelerates continuously to tens of thousands of miles per hour. A hunk of shrapnel the size of a penny could tear a hole straight through a sattelite or spacecraft and hardly lose any momentum.

Kindly reply if you can provide clarification on this or if you can debunk it.

Solution! (2, Funny)

alx5000 (896642) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520410)

Send the World's Biggest Magnet [fsu.edu] to orbit round the Earth! (Remember to attatch some politicians to it in order to clean both Earth and near Space)

Trapped Earth "doomsday" scenario (4, Interesting)

Jtheletter (686279) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520451)

One of the many shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot-with-tech scenarios that I have always been afraid of is the one in which through some, possibly minor at first, event in orbit our hundreds of satellites are smashed by debris and fan out smashing more in a chain reaction. The end result being that the earth is surrounded by a junk field that prevents any access to space because the probability of a fatal collision with junk is almost 1. Now, I'm sure there are a bunch of orbital physics geeks who can share their field knowledge and explain why that is unlikely or impossible (given different orbital heights and paths and decay of orbits into the atmosphere) currently, but I think it is still a wholly plausible future scenario when we have way more stuff in orbit than we do currently.

For example, the EU is now setting up it's own system of GPS satellites. How long until global politics force other countries like China, India, Korea, Japan, etc to put their own systems in place to ensure GPS access during troubled times? Plus communications continue to evolve towards satellite based systems for various reasons and as more countries reach 1st-class tech status they will want their own resources. The idea is that eventually without a specific system in place to mitigate risk humanity could doom itself to staying planetside for generations while we wait for junk to reenter the atmo, or be collected by robots or something.

Maybe now is the time to come up with some plans for the future to do more than just track space junk, and in fact move on to collecting, dispersing, or destroying it.

these guys have the solution (2, Informative)

finneas (947588) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520482)

check out http://www.tethers.com/ [tethers.com] They have a net thingie for grabbing space debris, and tethers for dragging debris out of orbit!

Actually... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520494)

Actually, the orbit of all space debris is in steady decay, thus this is a problem that will literally clear itself up, barring further launches. No doubt, however, wonderful advances in engineering will result from the accumulation of space junk---impact resistant hulls, self-healing composites, detection and avoidance systems. It's all good.

"We do not live in a one generation world, this is a place which we must sustain indefinately (until we find a new host planet of course)."

Speak for yourself. A rational individual is not motivated by what comes after him, since by definition it cannot affect his happiness. Only the sentimental (but ultimately irrational) sheep look after a future they cannot partake in, while the ubermen borrow as much as they can from that future.

A world populated by utterly rational beings would not be the democratic-socialist enviro-paradise that most lefties imagine.

Warning?? (1)

Leon_Trotsky (702427) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520499)

Let me get this straight... Nasa says "this is a growing environmental problem" and "we know it will only get worse". I would like NASA to tell me what I am supposed to do about that?? Who the hell put it up there in the first place?

Oblig. Austin Powers (paraphrased) quote.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520507)

'Of the 13,000 objects, over 40 percent came from breakups of both spacecraft and rocket bodies,'Johnson said.

Sir, you better take a look at the radar...
OMG, It looks like a giant....
JOHNSON!

NASA World Wind plug-in (2, Insightful)

Bull_UK (944763) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520513)

This plug-in [worldwindcentral.com] shows the mess up there quite clearly, and it's only showing a fraction of whats really above our heads

How about an artificial singularity? (1)

GIL_Dude (850471) | more than 8 years ago | (#14520530)

Seems to me an artificial singularity (read black hole) could be sent on a couple of different orbit tracks and grab stuff. This would work for cases that magnets wouldn't (for instance large paint flakes that are still dangerous at umpteen hundred MPH / KPH, aluminum, etc.)

Now we just need to make contact with the Romulans - I seem to recall that their warp cores used just the type of singularity we would need...

Sounds like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14520541)

my college roomates must be working for NASA. They just left their shit everywhere!
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