Space junk includes spent rockets, decommissioned satellites, abandoned equipment and tools, small parts, and even paint chips, all built up over 60 years of satellite launches. According to some estimates, 170 million pieces of man-made debris are floating around in space, traveling at about 17,000 miles per hour, and even a small fragment that strikes an orbiting satellite could be catastrophic.
Both low-earth orbiting and geosynchronous satellites are in danger from space clutter, which gives a whole new meaning to taking out the trash.
In the meantime, more inexpensively manufactured satellites are set to launch next year, suggesting a potential celestial traffic jam. Scientists are currently only able to track 22,000 space debris items. (RELATED: Read more about orbiting satellites at Space.news.)
Recently, one expert told the Daily Mail that the world's entire communications network is at risk.
The space junk problem has been getting worse every year. We're losing three or four satellites a year now to space debris collision. We're very close, NASA estimates, of within five to 10 years of losing everything.
Parenthetically, although its scientific accuracy has been called into question, the 2013 movie Gravity vividly depicts what happens when space debris crashes into the NASA Space Shuttle with dire consequences for astronauts played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and other crew members.
Think for a second about how people typically become unglued when trying to work with a slow Internet connection or when their ISP goes down temporarily. Without satellites, forget about the Internet for business and non-business applications, GPS tracking for both commercial and personal purposes, satellite TV and satellite phones, or even radio.
Without readily available satellite links, civilization could grind to a halt, as SHTFplan observes.
Our species is now pretty dependent on transportation, communication, and navigation systems that are reliant on satellites. If our satellites suddenly disappeared, it would have a huge impact on every advanced society.
Most damaging for national security, the U.S. military would immediately lose its technological edge without functioning satellites, according to Joshua Krause writing for the Ready Nutrition website.
There are multiple weapon systems that have GPS chips embedded in them to ensure accuracy...
... Our GPS satellites are also equipped to detect nuclear denotations anywhere in the world. On top of all this, there are satellites for global reconnaissance, early warning systems for hostile ICBM’s, and covert communications.
The Kessler syndrome, coined by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978, is a scenario where space rubbish essentially creates a chain reaction or domino effect when a piece of metal, for example, strikes a satellite, and that satellite breaks apart, releasing even more debris that can destroy other satellites.
Scientists have various space sanitation techniques currently in development including tracking all of the junk so that spacecraft can hopefully avoid any collisions, yanking dead satellites far out of the way of functioning ones, along with high-power lasers that could adjust the positioning of space debris.