A satellite’s demise shows how important it is to keep space clean

There are about 23,000 objects larger than a softball orbiting our planet. Three engineers are working to clean up space by creating a technology that would help drag the debris lower into the atmosphere so it will self-destruct.


National News

June 30, 2021 - 10:10 AM

Millennium Space Systems’ Ian Silverberg, left, Tyler Ritz and Patrick Kelly visit Joshua Tree to try to catch a glimpse of a satellite that’s testing a way to keep space junk from proliferating in space. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Space is vast. But the area around our planet is getting crowded.

New technologies and the proliferation of competing rocket companies have made it cheaper to reach low Earth orbit. But more objects in space can also mean more spacecraft-damaging collisions. That could jeopardize satellites that connect rural and underserved areas with broadband, as well as those that take images that help farmers track their crops’ health. It even could endanger the International Space Station, its astronauts and research aboard that could fuel cancer treatments and the creation of organs for transplant.

A too-cluttered sky could also get in astronomers’ way of learning more about the cosmos. And surrounding Earth with a continually denser layer of outmoded junk means that eventually there wouldn’t be room for the new, useful satellites of the future.

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