commentary

(CNN)

April 2, 2009

Space: The Final Junkyard?

by Caroline R. Milne and Peter D. Zimmerman

The fireball that streaked across the southeast U.S. skies Sunday night may have been the remnants of a Russian rocket booster.

A week earlier, the crew of the International Space Station briefly took shelter in their escape capsule because of worries about a piece of space junk no more than six inches across.

A month before that, a pair of camper-sized communications satellites slammed into one another above northern Siberia, causing thousands of metal shards ranging in size from dust speck to cantaloupe to be shot into space at speeds of over 17,000 mph.

Celestial real estate is increasingly popular. Now that Iran has joined the space club, 10 countries have demonstrated the ability to launch a probe into orbit, and another 100 own or share a satellite launched by others. All in all more than 900 satellites, along with tens of thousands of bits of man-made space detritus, jockey for elbow room overhead.

The result: a growing threat our atmosphere will soon become so crowded with floating junk as to become almost unusable...

The remainder of this op-ed can be found at ac360.blogs.cnn.com.


Caroline S. Reilly is a research assistant at the RAND Corporation specializing in defense strategy and planning. Peter D. Zimmerman is former chief scientist of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former State Department science advisor.

This commentary originally appeared on CNN on April 2, 2009. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.