There are a trillion pieces of space junk orbiting the planet and with a steady increase in numbers, they may pose threats on satellites all over the planet. A Russian scientist predicts that something as small as a space junk may provoke global wars.
The potential damage of these debris on military satellites may be misinterpreted by countries as deliberate attacks. Researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow said the debris contains a special political danger because it is hard to determine if the satellite was deliberately attacked by another country or was accidentally hit by space junk fragments.
In the report published in Acta Astronautica, the scientist found that there are about 23,000 pieces of debris that are longer than 10 centimeters (about 4 inches). They estimate that there are about half a billion debris ranging from one to 10 centimeters and trillions of smaller fragments.
These fragments pose serious threats to satellites and spacecraft at a combined speed of more than 30,000 miles per hour. One of the authors of the study, Vitaly Adushkin, reveals that the impact of space junk on satellites in space, especially military satellites, may provoke an armed or political conflict between countries.
In 2013, a Russian satellite called Blits, was destroyed and disabled after it collided with fragments created when China shot down its old weather satellite in 2007. When China used a missile to destroy the satellite, it left around 3,000 fragments in orbit.
In NASA's report, more than 500,000 pieces of debris or space junk are tracked as they orbit the Earth. On an average, they travel at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour which is fast enough to have a debris damage a satellite in orbit. The increasing number of space junk poses danger not only to satellite and spacecraft, but also to the International Space Station (ISS) where humans are aboard.
Astronauts took shelter as a Russian space debris travelled past the ISS in 2015. In the 16 years of ISS's existence, this is the fourth time a space junk or debris threatened the orbiting outpost. Space junk is becoming a big problem since the start of satellite launches in 1957.
Space debris are classified into two: natural and man-made. Natural debris are usually meteroids and man-made debris are from non-functional spacecraft, mission-related debris, fragmentation debris and abandoned launch vehicle stages.
"The greatest risk to space missions comes from non-trackable debris," said Nicholas Johnson, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris.