Flying the Orbital Gauntlet

There are currently “around 21,000 pieces of space debris in various Earth orbits—in other words, about 6,000 metric tons of debris orbiting the Earth,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Frank Rose. Space litter has become severe enough that the space shuttle impacts space rubble “repeatedly on every mission,” with the odds of being “critically impacted by debris” on a given mission near “one in 250,” said Rose this week at US Strategic Command’s space symposium in Omaha, Neb. To confront the problem, the US government intends to “build upon the foundation” of the United Nations’ space debris mitigation guidelines, expanding cooperation with international governments, the UN, and other non-governmental organizations. “[T]he United States is also pursuing research and development of technologies and techniques to mitigate on-orbit debris, reduce hazards, and increase our understanding of the current and future debris environment,” stated Rose. (Rose transcript)