Space may be the final frontier, but it is also the final resting place for tens of thousands of pieces of waste that NASA calls “space debris.”
Accumulating since the very first satellite launch in 1957, space debris is composed of non-functioning satellites, abandoned launch vehicle stages, solid-fuel rockets, and even tiny flecks of paint. In all, NASA estimates there are more than 500,000 marble-sized pieces of space waste and more than 20,000 objects floating around in near-Earth orbit larger than a softball.
With all of that space debris in orbit, it is just a matter of time before something crashes into something else. Astronauts are regularly on the lookout for space debris when they make spacewalks, and the International Space Station (ISS) routinely makes course adjustments to avoid larger pieces of space waste.
How Does Space Debris Occur?
Every time a satellite or rocket is launched into space, something is left behind. Almost every spacecraft ever built was designed with expendable components.
Even objects meant to perform a useful service for years have become space debris, such as satellites that have ceased functioning. These satellites, once they no longer work, can be replaced, but not retrieved.
Think about what happens when you buy a new appliance for your home or business. Usually, you get rid of the old one. But what would happen if every time you bought something new, you left the old one laying around? Pretty soon your house would be full of old, useless waste. That is what space looks like now, littered with more than 60 years of junk.
How to Tackle Space Debris
Waste on earth tends to stand still, making picking it up relatively easy. Waste in space is constantly in motion and travels at approximately 17,500 miles per hour. That is not something you can simply walk up to and grab.
Until recently, the priority of space missions has been getting stuff up there. Getting stuff back (other than people) has been left to gravity. While Rubicon® is not currently in the business of space debris removal, we see this as the next frontier for us to tackle, and we are actively beginning the process to figure out how we can help clean up the galaxy.
Rubicon can find appropriate recycling solutions for almost every waste stream imaginable across the globe, so it is only fitting that we begin to set our sights high and take on space waste as our new final frontier.
This article was originally published on the Rubicon Blog on Friday, April 2, 2021.