China Leads Universe in Space Pollution; Cleanup Uncertain

Aug 4, 2010· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
These men are hailed as heroes, but they may be litterbugs as well. (Photo: NASA TV/Reuters)

Air, water, soil, noise: there's all sorts of pollution. If it exists, chances are mankind’s found a way to dirty it up.

So it comes as no surprise that space pollution—yes, outer space garbage—exists.

Given the recent spate of terrestrial pollution news—earlier this summer, it was reported that China had surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest C02 emitter—is it really a shock that China is also the world’s biggest space polluter?

That’s precisely what Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, reported last week.

"According to estimates, 40 percent of space debris is produced by China. The U.S.'s share accounts for 27.5 percent, and Russia's for 25.5 percent, with 7 percent falling on other countries involved in space exploration," claimed an agency statement.

More than 19,000 “derelict” objects larger than 10 centimeters—spacecraft, rocket stages, and upper-stage rockets and their parts—currently orbit Earth, reports NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, the U.S. agency that monitors space trash.

Over the years, many methods have been proposed for pulling space junk out of orbit. Space Daily cites:

Using existing on-board chemical propulsions systems, electrodynamic tethers, gravity gradient-oriented drag tapes, boom-deployed drag sails or solar pressure sails.

On Monday, Global Aerospace Corporation, a private engineering company based in California, announced a new method for taking out space trash—the Gossamer Orbit Lowering Device, or GOLD.

The patented process is quite simple.

Using a large ultra-thin balloon that dramatically increases the aerodynamic drag of the satellite, GOLD will allow the dead satellite to enter the Earth's atmosphere quickly and burn up, reads a statement on GAC’s website.

GAC reports that if their device were used by all satellites under U.S. regulations, the number of space junk-on-space junk collisions would decrease 40 percent by 2025.

In 2009, Daily Tech reported that the threat of space trash accidentally colliding with the International Space Station was such a concern that astronauts were forced to sleep in space pods.