We’ve come a long way since Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite, was launched by the Soviets in 1957. There are now hundreds of satellites orbiting above our heads, making our mobile phones, traffic signals, TVs, internet and loads of other communications, actually work.
Along with the working satellites, there are the dead ones, the fragments of broken ones, the rocket parts from past missions, and myriad other chunks of junk orbiting at breakneck speeds, looking for something to collide with. And when they do, working satellites are destroyed, the Space Station could be damaged , the astronauts’ lives put at risk, and a whole new cascade of junk fragments go careening off in all directions. Sound serious? Quite!
BUT! The Swiss with their great efficiency and tidy ways, have been pondering this massive problem. They are developing CleanSpace One, a little ‘janitor’ satellite to deal with space junk by capturing it and dragging it back into the atmosphere to burn up.
This comes not a moment too soon, as space agencies now really have to consider how to de-orbit the satellites they launch, if they don’t want to make the junk problem worse and end up being cut off from space.
So who is responsible for the junk up in space? Is it you and me, as users of the services they provide, or the companies that launch them? Would you pay extra on your mobile phone bill to help clean up space?
Explore space junk and other big issues in Futurecade, our brand new digital game… If you’re a teacher, try it as a starter for a classroom discussion, and use the in-game questions to get your students talking about how science impacts on their lives.