We have about thousands of satellites hovering over our head all the time and it's a known fact by now. However, what you might not know is that out of all the man-made items that are floating in space, at altitudes ranging from few hundred miles to tens of thousands of miles, 95% is nothing but space junk, consisting of out-of-control space stations, used parts of rocket, dead satellites, astronaut's lost tools and more stuff like that.
Recently, Business Insider conducted a research on space junk and found out that this orbital garbage actually moves at a speed which is 10 times faster than that of a bullet and it takes a long time before finally crashing down on Earth. Just one collision in space is enough to form thousands of pieces of this high-speed junk, which then threaten the safety of other spacecrafts.
"This debris can stay up there for hundreds of years," told Bill Ailor, an aerospace engineer and atmospheric reentry specialist, to Business Insider. Ailor works for the nonprofit Aerospace Corporation.
Meanwhile, the report also discovered that over 170 million pieces of space junk are actually moving around Earth at rapid speeds of tens of thousands of miles per hour, according to the European Space Agency.
"Countries have learned over the years that when they create debris, it presents a risk to their own systems just as it does for everybody else," said Ailor.
Based on the available data from Space-Track.org the publication came up with a chart of the countries on Earth that has the most amount of space junk around the globe as of October 2017.
While Russia tops the chart with an enormous amount of space debri, which includes more than 6,500 objects, the United States is the dirtiest country in space for now. It's because Russia has 3,961 pieces of detectable space trash compared to the 3,999 pieces of trackable space garbage in the orbit of Earth created by American activities.
China, a country that is respectively new in the field of the space programme, comes at the close third with 3,475 pieces of space junk in its orbit. This is primarily because the nation had destroyed one of its own satellites during an anti-satellite weapons test in 2007. This highly controversial move had instantly kicked out over 2,300 trackable pieces of space junk into the orbit of Earth.
Several space agencies across the world now develop spacecrafts with a system that can remove the old spacecrafts from space, which is one way of preventing the formation of space junk. However, according to Ailor and other experts, it's time to push the development of new technologies and methods that would be capable of removing the old, uncontrolled debris that are already up there and continue to pose a threat.
"I've proposed something like a XPRIZE or a Grand Challenge, where would you identify three spacecraft and give a prize to an entity to remove those things," he said.
Despite the enormous amount of risk that space debris pose on Earth, the main obstacle in clearing this trash out would, most likely, be humans. "It's not just a technical issue. This idea of ownership gets to be a real player here. No other nation has permission to touch a US satellite, for instance. And if we went after a satellite ... it could even be deemed an act of war. There needs to be something where nations and commercial authorities have some authority to go after something," opened Ailor.