From the beginning of the space race we have been launching objects into orbit around the earth that all have limited lifespans. Everything from satellites used for communications, mapping, weather forecasting, and GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking on earth to the booster rockets used to launch spacecraft from the hold of earth’s gravity. With all of this accumulating waste, there has not been a comprehensive plan for removing or recycling this orbiting junk.
The Space Waste Problem
According to a 2011 report from the National Research Council, “Derelict satellites, equipment and other debris orbiting Earth (aka space junk) have been accumulating for many decades and could damage or even possibly destroy satellites and human spacecraft if they collide.” Left unchecked, this problem will continue to grow as space debris collides with functioning satellites which will add to the challenge.
While some space trash falls out of orbit and incinerates during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, there have been many examples in recent years of these objects making impact with the ground or falling into the world’s oceans. Compounding this problem is the fact that many of these objects contain toxic or hazardous materials.
Possible Space Waste Answers
As development in commercial spaceflight and exploration shifts to the private sector, now is the time to focus on dealing with this expanding problem and to develop strategies that will support future opportunities. A perfect starting point for seeking solutions to space waste issues is the earth-bound waste management and recycling industry. Looking to industry leaders and pioneers from this arena can greatly shorten the space waste management learning curve. It also allows opportunities for creative applications of industry standards to the unique challenges operating in space will present. Building on the wealth of knowledge and years of experience found within the existing waste management and recycling industry is a smart and timely move.