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The Challenges of the Burned-Up Junk in Our Atmosphere

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

By Mahika Khosla Dec. 14, 2023

While many are aware of the abundant waste throughout the world, few may know that there are masses of satellite pieces littering space. Space debris is largely due to man-made objects such as satellites and loose fragments from rocket explosions and collisions. This waste material is located 2,000 kilometers or less above Earth in low Earth orbit. Among these pieces of debris is approximately 3,000 dead satellites littering space, flying at roughly 15,700 mph and obstructing the path of active satellites.

Kavya Desai Art

The first accidental crash happened between two communications satellites—Russia’s Iridium 33 and the broken-down military Kosmos 225. The relative velocity of the collision was estimated to be 26,000 mph. Since then, the issue of satellite debris has grown significantly—the International Space Station was forced to change paths 30 times over the past 20 years to avoid space junk, per ISS National Laboratory.

Large corporations are adding to the crisis at hand. For example, Project Kuiper is an Amazon initiative that launched 3,236 satellites with the goal of providing global high-speed internet access. Another company with a similar motive is Starlink, under the organization SpaceX. Starlink has launched over 5,000 small satellites to increase internet accessibility. While these companies have good intentions, the satellites pose many risks.

Aside from colliding with active satellites and human space missions, launching too many satellites creates another problem: light pollution. Research conducted by institutions like the College of Medicine at Korea University shows that artificial light at night (ALAN) can increase risks for obesity, depression, sleep disorders and cancer among other illnesses. ALAN also makes it difficult for astronomers to view and analyze stars.

“The amount of space debris is a large issue as it endangers space exploration. Satellite waste colliding with active satellites is especially harmful as scientists use satellites for studies like tracking animal migration. A potential solution can be building satellites that are able to reenter the atmosphere rather than accumulating in space,” Freshman Nile Rahman said.

The growing amount of space debris has motivated many companies and countries to take action. The U.S. government and the United Nations have passed the Outer Space Treaty, which requires nations to take responsibility for the satellite launches of both private and non private organizations. Each nation is expected to approve or disapprove launches whether or not it meets certain criteria. For example, if a launch is too costly or does not have significant scientific value, it can be disapproved.

“Countries should not limit the number of satellites but rather regulate them so they do not deter space missions. Satellites serve many benefits, and current and future innovations should not be stifled,” Sophomore Vedh Atmakuri said.

Growing amounts of space debris may lead to increased accidents in Earth’s orbit. With the exponential growth of satellites launched, space exploration will likely become more dangerous if the problem of satellite waste is not properly addressed.


About the Contributors

Mahika Khosla is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a writer for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys reading novels, watching movies with popcorn, and creating board games.

Kavya Desai is a senior at Leland High School and is a new artist for The Charger Account. During her free time, she enjoys sleeping, playing video games, and going for long drives.

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