Space Junk Facts – Things We Should Know About Space Debris

space junk facts

Did you know that space junk is space trash? Well, sort of. Yes, that’s true. And while the phrase is technically accurate, it may also be used somewhat pejorative.

The truth is that space junk is pretty much all space junk. That’s because the majority of what ends up in space is eventually abandoned and/or discarded by humans or left in free-flying unmanned orbit around the earth. The space junk is trash in the truest sense of the phrase. It’s simply discarded and left in space in the hopes that it will someday find its way back to earth and end up as some kind of precious antique or other extremely valuable find.

While not all space junk is launched into space, some of it re-orballs from the doomed satellites which previously caused the original satellites to maneuver out of their intended orbit. These so called “other satellites” are often deactivated and/or captured by other space debris or even friendly satellites that are still on the earth orbit. In this case, the satellites are being moved to a different orbit or even salvaged by the other satellites. Either way, it all happens at the same time.

An Overview

Some people may be surprised to learn that most of the space debris that finds its way to earth is in fact just floating around space. Yes, that’s correct. While most of it is collected and placed into a safe orbit above the earth, there are some pieces that are broken down into more useful pieces for re-use or examination by engineers and scientists. Some of these may eventually find their way back into the operational orbit of the space debris. This also makes them space junk.

Although some of this debris is in reality perfectly harmless, some is definitely not! Remember that most small satellites are in elliptical orbit close to the equator. This means that they will rotate about once every three days. Over time, with enough use, some of these objects can become less stable and as a result they can begin to tumble out of orbit. This is what is meant when someone says that they have “meteered” or “tagged” space junk!

Space Junk Facts You Must Know


There are other things to watch out for in relation to space junk as well. For example, some very large pieces of debris, like ICBM missiles, which are designed to destroy larger space station, can sometimes malfunction and fall back to earth. Many of these pieces have been found on island reefs in the Pacific Ocean, and while they are not ICBM missiles, these objects are a hazard to any space station that could find itself in their path. Another reminder of this danger is that many pieces of space debris will eventually burn up in re-entry, and this can threaten the lives of those who may find themselves living on or near these objects. Some of these pieces of debris could be very small, like pieces of a satellite that has broken up into a smaller object. But some of the larger space junk is often much bigger and more threatening.

While most of the space junk that is thought to be threatening earth is a danger that is more cosmetic than a real threat, it is still a danger. When an object is thought to be threatening or there is a chance that it could be a threat, then it needs to be monitored by space debris tracking and analysis teams. If you have a large satellite or space station in your orbit, then you need to know what is going on with it. You need to be aware of its position and status at all times, even when it is not functioning. There have even been cases where people have been threatened in a way because one of these space objects had interfered with an earthquake monitoring station in earthquake prone areas.

Bottom Line

Most of the space debris that is launched into space is most likely a piece of man-made objects. These include pieces of space debris that have fallen from space or ones that are sabotaged or abandoned by other space debris collectors. The majority of the man-made space debris that is launched into space is from the Russian space program, including fragments from the Soyuz and Progress vehicles. Some of this debris also comes from the United States, such as pieces from the U.S. Air Force’s ER Vulcain launches. While it is very rare for a man made objects to be launched into space and come back to earth intact, it is sometimes inevitable.

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