Alice Gorman

Published On


Page Range

pp. 239-246

Print Length

7 pages

Space Junk

Sputnik 1’s launch in 1957 transformed Earth’s orbit into a buffer zone between humans and the solar system. Since then, orbital space has accumulated a population of robotic satellites and junk generated by their decay. Gorman explores the three levels of Earth’s orbit, the types of machinery inhabiting these levels, and the debris left behind by these human objects. She highlights the potential damage of space junk colliding, following Kessler and Cour-Palais’ 1978 paper which proposed the worst-case scenario for orbital space – continued debris collisions could result in debris being created without new objects being launched (the Kessler syndrome). With over 30,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 cm in Earth’s orbit today, and many millions of fragments below that size, this is fast becoming reality. Gorman proposes potential solutions to minimize the creation of debris, such as shielding spacecraft against collisions, and discusses the challenges – economic, geopolitical and epistemological – involved in removing old debris from orbit. Indeed, it may be too easy to characterize space debris as a problem that needs to be fixed, and one alternative approach sees Earth’s near space environment as a cultural landscape with its own intrinsic values.