China’s space agency made headlines this month after debris from a rocket launched by them crashed harmlessly into the Indian Ocean this past weekend, however, the 20-ton section of the rocket originally was thought to land in a major city and cause severe damage. The section of the rocket burned up when it reentered the atmosphere.
The incident itself created a much larger discourse about the concept of “space junk” and how dangerous it actually is. The size of the rocket section and confusion over its potential trajectory has many wondering how we can trust our world’s scientists to avoid future incidents such as this from occurring.
The risk of rocket parts falling into populated areas has never been a bigger issue due to the fact that many countries have private companies that can expand space ambitions, which poses a major risk for existing satellite infrastructure and space exploration missions.
According to reports there are about 6,000 satellites currently orbiting the Earth, and more than half of them are non-functional. If any of these satellites collide, they can break off and splinter into thousands of pieces that could strike other objects in orbit, and set off a massive chain reaction of complete space station destruction.
NASA estimates there are at least 26,000 pieces of debris the size of a softball or larger that could destroy satellites or entire spacecraft simply due to the speed they’re travelling at.
Andreas Kluth is a contributor to Bloomberg who believes that all of the world’s nations need to work together to clean up space: “The major powers must elevate space governance to the level of other threats to humanity, from climate change to nuclear proliferation. They should publicly label the problem a tragedy of the commons and signal their readiness to begin negotiations, regardless of other conflicts they have with one another. The U.S. is the obvious nation to take the lead. China, Russia and others should reciprocate.”
Steven Freeland agrees with Kluth’s point, and added that beyond just laws, the world needs to create a concrete plan for cleaning up the mess of debris that currently exists as well.
“Beyond the legal technicalities, debris removal raises complex policy, geopolitical, economic, and social challenges. Whose responsibility is it to remove debris? Who should pay? What rights do non-space faring nations have in discussions? Which debris should be preserved as heritage?”
Others also believe that the nation’s responsible for the debris need to be held accountable for the extreme damage that’s being done in space, as well as the amount of lives they put at risk on Earth when they can’t predict the trajectory of these falling debris.
“Why is it possible for China, or any other space-faring nation, to launch massive rockets and let them fall to earth willy-nilly? The answer to that is policy failure: Despite regulations on space flight and conduct, the issue of rocket reentry is loosely and poorly regulated, so countries cut corners and take their chances that a falling rocket won’t hit anything major,” explained Alex Ward of Vox Magazine.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.