Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Space Junk 2.0

Zeit has created an amazing 3D simulation of the destruction of the Iridium-33 satellite in 2009. On Feb 10th 2009 a malfunctioning Soviet-era satellite smashed into Iridium-33 at ten times the speed of a flying bullet. The crash shattered both satellites and turned them into two clouds of debris containing more than 1,700 pieces of space junk. Even now, 13 years later, that debris is still orbiting the Earth, and makes up just a tiny part of the garbage that is now littering Earth's near space.

This 3D simulation in the article Space Junk: Our Garbage is Space is used to help illustrate the growing problem of space debris and the danger that it creates to other space missions. The article also includes a 3D visualization of the millions of pieces of space debris now in low Earth orbit, in medium Earth orbit and further out in geo-stationary orbit around the Earth. In total there are around 130 million particles of debris now littering space. 
As you progress through Zeit's Space Junk visualization different colors are used to show the different types of space debris now in orbit around the Earth. These include burned out rockets, defective satellites, collision splinters, and other scraps of space debris. All of which race around the Earth threatening the safety of satellites and manned space capsules. 

In November 2021 Russia fired a missile at one of its own satellites, exploding it into over 1,500 pieces of large orbital debris and hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris. This debris caused pandemonium aboard the International Space Station, where the seven crew members were forced to shelter in capsules. Luckily (and purely by chance) the debris passed by the ISS without causing any damage. This incident helped to highlight the growing problem of space junk. 

In How Space Debris Threatens Modern Life the Financial Times explores the growing problem of pollution in Earth's low orbit. According to NASA there is around 9,000 tonnes of debris now floating around Earth at speeds of up to 25,000 km an hour. In its scrollytelling visualization the Financial Times maps out the tens of thousands of satellites now in low Earth orbit and explores some of the dangers to modern life from the increasing amount of junk accompanying those still active satellites.

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