Did Space Junk Just Reach a Critical ‘Tipping Point’?

Space debris circling the Earth has reached a critical "tipping point" dangerous enough to collide with man or unmanned space craft and cause significant damage, suggests a report released Thursday by the National Research Council.

In a post titled, "NASA Needs Strategic Plan to Manage Orbital Debris Efforts; Risks Increasing for Satellites, Space Station," the council calls on the space organization to develop a better plan to manage and clean up the space junk.

Space debris is known to be the cause of disabling or even destroying satellites in the past and is currently also life threatening to astronauts who work and remain at the International Space Station. In addition to about 1,100 satellites orbiting the globe, there are 370,000 pieces of space debris flying around, of which 22,000 are large enough track.

"The current space environment is growing increasingly hazardous to spacecraft and astronauts. NASA needs to determine the best path forward for tackling the multifaceted problems caused by meteoroids and orbital debris that put human and robotic space operations at risk," said Donald Kessler, chair of the committee that wrote the report and retired head of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office.

The report calls on NASA to direct specific funds to budget orbital debris cleaning programs but also states that in order to carryout active debris removal missions other countries will have to be involved.

While the United States is accountable for 30 percent of the objects orbiting Earth, other countries like Russia and China could be attributed to the issue as well. But also, according to international legal principles, no nation may collect other nations' space objects,which makes the task easier said than done.

The report recommends NASA engage the U.S. Department of State in order to commence diplomatic talks with corresponding countries and in this manner initiate efforts to resolve the matters.

The NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, located at the Johnson Space Center, is the lead NASA center for orbital debris research. It is recognized worldwide for its initiative in addressing orbital debris issues.

To view the entire report, click here.