Space debris

orbital debrisspace junkdebrisobjectobjectsfragmentation debrisSpace pollutionbroken remains of Earth's orbital infrastructuredebris fielddebris in orbit
Space debris (or space junk) is small natural micrometeoroids and the man-made orbital debris (MMOD) that orbit Earth and represent a risk to spacecraft.wikipedia
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Satellite

satellitesartificial satelliteartificial satellites
MMOD includes old satellites and spent rocket stages, as well as the fragments from their disintegration and collisions.
Of those about 1,900 were operational, while the rest have lived out their useful lives and become space debris.

Meteoroid

meteormeteorsfireball
Below 2000 km Earth-altitude, pieces of debris are denser than meteoroids; most are dust from solid rocket motors, surface erosion debris like paint flakes, and frozen coolant from RORSAT (nuclear-powered satellites). The European Space Agency telecom satellite Olympus-1 was struck by a meteoroid on 11 August 1993 and eventually moved to a graveyard orbit.
Most are fragments from comets or asteroids, whereas others are collision impact debris ejected from bodies such as the Moon or Mars.

Kessler syndrome

causing the debris to destroy all the satellites at that altitudechain reactioncollisional cascade
The Kessler syndrome, a runaway chain reaction of collisions exponentially increasing the amount of debris, has been hypothesized to ensue beyond a critical density.
The Kessler syndrome (also called the Kessler effect, collisional cascading, or ablation cascade), proposed by the NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978, is a scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade in which each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions.

2009 satellite collision

collidedFebruary 10, 2009, collision2009 collision
For comparison, the International Space Station orbits in the 300 – range, and the 2009 satellite collision and 2007 antisat test occurred at 800 to 900 km altitude.
It was the first time a hypervelocity collision occurred between two satellites – until then, all accidental hypervelocity collisions had involved a satellite and a piece of space debris.

Whipple shield

cascade-style shield stackmeteorite and debris protection systemMicro Meteoroid Orbital Debris
Collisions with debris have become a hazard to spacecraft; they cause damage akin to sandblasting, especially to solar panels and optics like telescopes or star trackers that cannot be covered with a ballistic Whipple shield (unless it is transparent).
The Whipple shield or Whipple bumper, invented by Fred Whipple, is a type of hypervelocity impact shield used to protect crewed and uncrewed spacecraft from collisions with micrometeoroids and orbital debris whose velocities generally range between 3 and 18 km/s.

Graveyard orbit

disposal orbitJunk orbitabove its previous orbit
The European Space Agency telecom satellite Olympus-1 was struck by a meteoroid on 11 August 1993 and eventually moved to a graveyard orbit.
Satellites are typically moved into such orbits at the end of their operational life to reduce the probability of colliding with operational spacecraft and generating space debris.

2019 Indian anti-satellite missile test

Mission Shakti20192019 destruction
The most recent ASATs were Chinese interception of FY-1C, trials of Russian PL-19 Nudol, American interception of USA-193 and Indian interception of unstated live satellite.
The test sparked concerns regarding the creation of Space debris.

Multistage rocket

upper stagefirst stagesecond stage
MMOD includes old satellites and spent rocket stages, as well as the fragments from their disintegration and collisions.
Spent upper stages of launch vehicles are a significant source of space debris for many years after use, and occasionally, large debris fields created from the breakup of a single upper stage while in orbit.

Geostationary transfer orbit

geosynchronous transfer orbitGTOtransfer
Satellites or boosters in other orbits, especially stranded in geostationary transfer orbit, are an additional concern due to their typically high crossing velocity.
Perigee can be anywhere above the atmosphere, but is usually restricted to a few hundred kilometers above the Earth's surface to reduce launcher delta-V (\Delta V) requirements and to limit the orbital lifetime of the spent booster so as to curtail space junk.

Space-based solar power

solar power satellitesolar power satellitesSpace Solar Power
Large objects, such as solar-power satellites, are especially vulnerable to collisions.

2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test

Fengyun-1C20072007 antisat test
For comparison, the International Space Station orbits in the 300 – range, and the 2009 satellite collision and 2007 antisat test occurred at 800 to 900 km altitude. The most recent ASATs were Chinese interception of FY-1C, trials of Russian PL-19 Nudol, American interception of USA-193 and Indian interception of unstated live satellite. On 22 January 2013 BLITS (a Russian laser-ranging satellite) was struck by debris suspected to be from the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test, changing its orbit and spin rate.
Anti-satellite missile tests, especially ones involving kinetic kill vehicles as in this case, contribute to the formation of orbital space debris which can remain in orbit for many years and could interfere with future space activity (Kessler syndrome).

Telstar 401

Although velocities are low between GEO objects, when a satellite becomes derelict (such as Telstar 401) it assumes a geosynchronous orbit; its orbital inclination increases about .8° and its speed increases about 100 mph per year.
The satellite is now space debris, remaining in geosynchronous orbit.

US-A

RORSATRadar Ocean Reconnaissance SatelliteKosmos 198
Below 2000 km Earth-altitude, pieces of debris are denser than meteoroids; most are dust from solid rocket motors, surface erosion debris like paint flakes, and frozen coolant from RORSAT (nuclear-powered satellites).
US-A satellites were a major source of space debris in low Earth orbit.

Ed White (astronaut)

Ed WhiteEdward H. White IIEdward White
According to Edward Tufte's book Envisioning Information, space debris includes a glove lost by astronaut Ed White on the first American space-walk (EVA); a camera lost by Michael Collins near Gemini 10; a thermal blanket lost during STS-88; garbage bags jettisoned by Soviet cosmonauts during Mir's 15-year life, a wrench and a toothbrush.
While he was outside, a spare thermal glove floated away through the open hatch of the spacecraft, becoming an early piece of space debris in low Earth orbit, until it burned up upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

Passivation (spacecraft)

passivatedpassivationunvented
In characterizing the problem of space debris, it was learned that much debris was due to rocket upper stages (e.g. the Inertial Upper Stage) which end up in orbit, and break up due to decomposition of unvented unburned fuel.
In the past, such stored energy has sometimes led to fragmentation or explosion, producing unwanted space debris.

Defense Meteorological Satellite Program

DMSPP-35Data Acquisition and Processing Program
For example, in February 2015, the USAF Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 (DMSP-F13) exploded on orbit, creating at least 149 debris objects, which were expected to remain in orbit for decades.
On 3 February 2015, the 13th DMSP satellite—DMSP-F13, launched in 1995—exploded while in a Sun-synchronous polar orbit leaving a debris field of at least 43 to 100 large fragments and more than 50,000 pieces smaller than 1 millimeter.

Donald J. Kessler

The Kessler syndrome, proposed by the NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978, is a scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions.
Donald J. Kessler (born 1940) is an American astrophysicist and former NASA scientist known for his studies regarding space debris.

Sodium-potassium alloy

NaKNa 2 Kpotassium-sodium alloy
The satellite's BES-5 nuclear reactor were cooled with a coolant loop of sodium-potassium alloy, creating a potential problem when the satellite reached end of life.
An unintended consequence of the usage as a coolant on orbiting satellites has been the creation of additional space debris.

Edward Tufte

Edward R. TufteTufte, EdwardDr. Edward Tufte
According to Edward Tufte's book Envisioning Information, space debris includes a glove lost by astronaut Ed White on the first American space-walk (EVA); a camera lost by Michael Collins near Gemini 10; a thermal blanket lost during STS-88; garbage bags jettisoned by Soviet cosmonauts during Mir's 15-year life, a wrench and a toothbrush.
These include John Snow's, Charles Joseph Minard's, early space debris plots, Galileo Galilei's Sidereus Nuncius, and Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

STS-116

STS 1161162006
Sunita Williams of STS-116 lost a camera during an EVA.
Another significant event during the EVA was the loss of 'Suni' Williams' digital camera.

BLITS

BLITS (Ball Lens In The Space) satelliteBLITS (Ball Lens In The Space) spherical retroreflector satelliteBLITS (satellite)
On 22 January 2013 BLITS (a Russian laser-ranging satellite) was struck by debris suspected to be from the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test, changing its orbit and spin rate.
The expected operative life was at least five years, but the mission was interrupted in 2013 after a collision with space debris.

Collision

collisionscollidecolliding
MMOD includes old satellites and spent rocket stages, as well as the fragments from their disintegration and collisions.

Low Earth orbit

Low EarthLEOlow-Earth orbit
The Kessler syndrome, proposed by the NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978, is a scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions. A large-enough collision (e.g. between a space station and a defunct satellite) could make low Earth orbit impassable.
The LEO environment is becoming congested with space debris because of the frequency of object launches.

ESA Optical Ground Station

ESA OGSOGS TelescopeESA Space Debris Telescope
Other data come from the ESA Space Debris Telescope, TIRA, the Goldstone, Haystack, and EISCAT radars and the Cobra Dane phased array radar, to be used in debris-environment models like the ESA Meteoroid and Space Debris Terrestrial Environment Reference (MASTER).
The ESA Optical Ground Station (OGS Telescope or ESA Space Debris Telescope) is the European Space Agency's ground based observatory at the Teide Observatory on Tenerife, Spain, built for the observation of space debris.

Vanguard 1

Vanguard IVanguardVanguard 1C
In 1958, the United States launched Vanguard I into a medium Earth orbit (MEO).
After its scientific mission ended in 1964, Vanguard 1 became a object—just like the upper stage of the rocket used to launch the satellite had after it finished the delta-v maneuver to place Vanguard 1 in orbit in 1958.