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Space Debris Mitigation: A New Hope for a Realistic Solution?

Space Debris Mitigation: A New Hope for a Realistic Solution?

On Jan. 11, 2007, a Chinese antisatellite missile test completely fragmented a Chinese target satellite into millions of pieces of debris — nearly 800 debris fragments 10 centimeters or larger, nearly 40,000 debris fragments between 1 and 10 centimeters, and some 2 million fragments of 1 millimeter or larger.

On Feb. 10, 2009, the operational Iridium 33 and decommissioned Kosmos-2251 satellites collided at a speed of 42,120 kilometers per hour, destroying both satellites. In July 2011, more than 2,000 large debris fragments resulting from this collision were detected.

The international space station is routinely dodging debris that are tracked by ground-based radars. 

Space debris constitutes a continuously growing threat to satellites and manned spacecraft. Very small debris creates potentially nonthreatening damage. Large debris can be detected by ground-based radars and avoided by spacecraft maneuvers. However, small- to medium-sized debris in low or medium Earth orbits constitutes the biggest threat. These orbits have the largest density of debris and the highest relative speeds, while the atmospheric drag is small enough that it may take centuries to have the debris re-enter the atmosphere.

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November 12, 2014

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