Cleaning Up the Orbital Junkyard

In an Air & Space story titled “Satellite Smashers,” Tony Reichhardt looks at the increasing threat posed by orbital debris. The space garbage, which comes from everything from spent rocket stages to anti-satellite tests, can disable automated spacecraft and puncture human habitats when it hits them at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

NASA’s Nicholas Johnson is conducting a comprehensive study of options with debris experts from the United States, Japan and Europe. The group will present their findings to the International Academy of Astronautics next year.

“No easy or cheap solutions have yet been identified,” Johnson said. “Some of the ideas are technically outlandish, some are technically feasible. If you want to spend tens of millions to retrieve a single rocket body, you can do it. But it doesn’t make any sense economically.”