Skip to main content
Special Report

The Growing Threat of Space Junk

Accumulating orbital debris--often small shards of defunct satellites and past space missions, already concerns the U.S. government. Now,with movies like Gravity, public awareness is growing too

  • October 2, 2013

Your Friday Forecast: Sunny, with a 1-in-21-Trillion Chance of Getting Hit by Orbital Debris

Credit: NASA The orbital realm surrounding Earth is filled with millions of pieces of space junk, some of which occasionally fall back to Earth. Rarely, though, does an entire satellite or spacecraft come back uncontrolled, as NASA expects its Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) to do sometime on Friday.The schoolbus-size UARS [ see artist's depiction at left ] weighs some 5.7 metric tons, and NASA predicts that 500 kilograms of debris will survive reentry and land somewhere on Earth.

September 21, 2011 — John Matson

Where Did All That Space Debris Come From?

Early in the Space Age, little thought was given to objects left in orbit as part of satellite launches. But as the number of those objects has grown, at first steadily and then very rapidly, through the 50-plus years since the launch of Sputnik, concerns about the polluted orbital sphere have grown accordingly.

January 14, 2012 — David Wright

Space Station Gets Close Wake-up Call

Orbital debris within 250 meters of the International Space station is a warning to clean up the neighborhood before a tragic impact. John Matson reports

July 4, 2011

Eye on the Junk

Space station noises renew worry about orbital debris

June 1, 2004 — Phil Scott