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Earth Pelted by More than 600 Large Debris Items in 2014, NASA Reports

Earth Pelted by More than 600 Large Debris Items in 2014, NASA Reports

J.C. Liou, chief scientist at NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, said the U.S. debris-tracking network’s capabilities will improve late this year when the 1.3-meter Meter-Class Autonomous Telescope (MCAT) enters service on Ascension Island. Credit: NASA
J.C. Liou, chief scientist at NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, said the U.S. debris-tracking network’s capabilities will improve late this year when the 1.3-meter Meter-Class Autonomous Telescope (MCAT) enters service on Ascension Island. Credit: NASA

More than 600 dead satellites, spent rocket stages and other debris re-entered Earth's atmosphere in 2014 — more than 100,000 kilograms of mass that caused no reported casualties or sizable property damage, NASA has told a United Nations conference.

The rain of junk was more substantial in 2014 than in previous years because of a peak in solar activity, which expands the atmosphere and captures dead satellites and other garbage that otherwise would have remained in orbit longer.

The low-orbit-cleansing effect of solar activity caused a slight dip in the total number of pieces of debris measuring 10 centimeters in diameter or larger, according to J.C. Liou, chief scientist at NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

But if the number of pieces was reduced, the total estimated mass of junk resulting from launch activity continued to climb, reaching 6.7 million kilograms by the end of the year. The figure was 5 million kilograms in 2005.

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March 12, 2015


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