SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Social media last night lit up with videos of what turned out to be space junk – specifically part of a Chinese rocket burning up upon reentering the atmosphere over the western United States.
The incident highlights an issue of growing concern among space agencies.
At issue is the sheer amount of junk orbiting the earth, which has been growing ever since countries began launching satellites in the 1950’s without a standard for taking them out of orbit.
“It is becoming a problem, because the most crowded area is the space where the space station is, and where human-piloted spacecraft are going to be orbiting,” Bing Quoc of the California Academy of Sciences told KCBS.
There are now hundreds of thousands of pieces of material spanning an area from about 200 miles above earth, to 22,000 miles above earth.
“They don’t want something hitting their spacecraft at 17,000 miles per hour,” Quoc said.
He says some countries are working on a plan to remove some of that space junk from orbit.
“There are only a few experiments that are planned right now. One is basically to deploy a big net to gather up a satellite, and then drag it out of orbit and drop it over the ocean,” Quoc said.