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The Kessler Syndrome: 10 Interesting and Disturbing Facts

The Kessler Syndrome: 10 Interesting and Disturbing Facts

Artist depiction of rocket body explosion. An event of this nature can be prevented by releasing all the stored energy from inside a rocket, a process known as “Passivation.” – Credit: ESA.
Artist depiction of rocket body explosion. An event of this nature can be prevented by releasing all the stored energy from inside a rocket, a process known as “Passivation.” – Credit: ESA.

Low Earth Orbit is the home of the International Space Station and of other thousands of satellites. It is also becoming a hazardous arena littered with mindless space junk and inoperable spacecraft orbiting at outrageous speeds.

It's a reality quite like Alfonso Cuarón’s film Gravity, and it's called The Kessler Syndrome. If it plays out like the most pessimistic scenario, prepare to spend a few years without cell phone reception, Internet, and a five-day weather forecast.

What is The Kessler Syndrome?

The Kessler Syndrome is a theory proposed by NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978, used to describe a self-sustaining cascading collision of space debris in LEO. It’s the idea that two colliding objects in space generate more debris that then collides with other objects, creating even more shrapnel and litter until the entirety of LEO is an impassable array of super swift stuff. At that point, any entering satellite would face unprecedented risks of headfirst bombardment.

 

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September 16, 2014


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