The increasing number in space debris floating around the Earth could trigger an international armed conflict, a new study warns. According to scientists, even small pieces of each nation’s space junk can destroy military satellites, which may lead other nations to confuse this as an act of war.
The study, published in Acta Astronautica, claims that US and Russian space agencies observed more than 23,000 pieces of debris bigger than 10 centimetres and NASA suggests there could be more than 500,000 pieces of space junk.
Others suggest that there could be half a billion particles that measure from one to 10 centimetres and trillions of even tinier fragments. These threaten the satellites in the planet’s low orbit where most military satellites are set out.
The space junk can travel to speeds of up to 28,160 kilometres per hour. The researchers say that the smallest fragments pose a greater risk than the bigger debris because satellites and spacecraft cannot do anything to avoid these.
Additionally, the amount of space junk has risen significantly in half a century largely because of space missions. Study author Vitaly Adushkin of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow suggests that efforts to clean up the debris must be done to prevent catastrophes.
The Russian scientist cites sudden failures of defence satellites that can be a politically dangerous dilemma. Adushkin says that the failures have never been explained but notes two possible reasons: unrecorded collisions with space debris or aggressive intentional actions from enemies.
In 2014, the International Space Station took five times of evasive action to avoid space debris. In 2013, Blits, a Russian satellite, stopped working after debris from China’s old weather satellites hit it. The Chinese used a missile to shoot down its satellite in 2007, creating 3,000 pieces of debris.
Apparently, even tiny paint flecks that have flaked off a spacecraft have the potential to damage spacecrafts. NASA remarks that space shuttle windows have been replaced due to the damage from paint flecks.
However, NASA points out that there have been incredibly few disastrous collisions. Still, the space agency insists that plans must be enacted to solve this problem.