A CubeSat is a miniature satellite that is no bigger than 4 square inches. The small size and low cost allow smaller companies entry into markets involved with communications and space data.

CubeSats are not maneuverable, so they cannot avoid collisions with other objects. Although most have lifespans of about 25 years, some go into deeper orbit, where they will remain longer.

With more CubeSats going into the Earth's orbit each day, researchers are now warning us that more of these small satellites could collide with and damage other objects also in orbit.

Dozens of these little satellites are currently in orbit, junking up that region of space and creating hazards for other satellites and spacecrafts in the area. Since 2005, over 350,000 CubeSats have come within three miles of other objects in orbit. As more are released into orbit, this number will rise.

Dr. Hugh Lewis from the University of Southampton is a space debris expert. He warns that the increasing use of CubeSats will create problems and that we need to take steps now to prevent those.

"To reduce the risks, some effort is needed to engage with the growing small satellite community," says Lewis. "All space users, not just those in the CubeSat community, who are taking the right steps should be encouraged to continue and, ultimately, lead on sustainable practices and debris mitigation activities."

Lewis and his team of researchers used computer models to simulate CubeSat traffic up until 2043. They discovered that in just the next 30 years, there will be millions of close calls with CubeSats, and that a few will collide with other objects.

Although a few might not seem so bad, each collision will send yet more debris into orbit, creating an even bigger chance of more objects colliding.

One important way to continue the responsible use of CubeSats is by making them disposable and limiting their life spans. This would reduce the amount of space junk orbiting the Earth and take care of any CubeSats whose missions are complete.

In addition to CubeSats, there is currently more than 500,000 pieces of debris in orbit around the Earth, including decommissioned satellites. This junk doesn't just pose a risk to other satellites, but it is also hazardous to the International Space Station. NASA is working on ways to cut down on debris, including setting up an Orbital Debris Program Office at its Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

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