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Top Five Facts: Junk In Space

This image, courtesy of NASA, shows the orbital debris hole made in the panel of NASA’s Solar Max experiment.

1 First and oldest

Vanguard 1, launched by the USA back in 1958, is the oldest piece of space junk. It stopped operating in 1964, but will continue orbiting Earth for 240 years.

2 Long-term problem

The length of time junk stays in orbit before re-entering the atmosphere is only a few days when it’s below 200km, but increases to a few years between 200 and 600km.

3 A load of junk

The 902 operational satellites that were orbiting Earth in 2009 are dwarfed by the vast amount of junk debris and dead spacecraft that surrounds them.

4 What are the chances?

A 2mm piece of debris can rip a lethal hole in an astronaut’s spacesuit. The chance of such an object hitting an astronaut during a six-hour spacewalk is 31,000 to one.

5 Unlucky Lottie

The chance of being hit by space junk on Earth is 20 billion to one. Unlucky Lottie Williams was hit but unharmed by a 13cm piece of a Delta II rocket in 1997.

Author: Nigel Watson