I'm the Iceberg

Space debris populations seen from outside geosynchronous orbit (GEO). Note the two primary debris fields, the ring of objects in GEO, and the cloud of objects in low earth orbit (LEO).

Space debris is the collection of defunct objects in orbit around Earth. This includes everything from spent rocket stages, old satellites, fragments from disintegration, erosion, and collisions. Since orbits overlap with new spacecraft, debris may collide with operational spacecraft.

Currently about 19,000 pieces of debris larger than 5 cm are tracked, with another 300,000 pieces smaller than 1 cm below 2000 km altitude.

Safety from debris over 10 cm (3.9 in), comes from maneuvering a spacecraft to avoid a collision. As the chance of collision is influenced by the number of objects in space, there is a critical density where the creation of new debris occurs faster than the various natural forces remove them. Beyond this point a runaway chain reaction may occur that pulverizes everything in orbit, including functioning satellites. Called the “Kessler syndrome”, there is debate if the critical density has already been reached in certain orbital bands. One implication is that the distribution of debris in orbit could render space exploration, and even the use of satellites, unfeasible for many generations.

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Image source: [NASA Orbital Debris Program Office]

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    omg it looks like an atom
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