Space Junk: What is it and Who Owns it?

It’s important that we are aware of the risks space junk can pose and understand who owns all these orbiting objects

Earth
Space junk is essentially man-made debris and objects which have been left to orbit the earth for a variety of reasons. This could be due to a malfunction, fragmentation, or simply just abandonment. Pixabay

You may think that space is just a void – an unimaginably large, empty space stretching out forever. However, while that may be true to a certain extent, it’s definitely not the case a little closer to home. 

Orbiting our earth are thousands of pieces of debris – space junk. This includes everything from rocket parts to disused satellites, and there’s more up there than you might first think. 

What is Space Junk?

Space junk is essentially man-made debris and objects which have been left to orbit the earth for a variety of reasons. This could be due to a malfunction, fragmentation, or simply just abandonment. 

It might not seem like that much of a big deal, but large or fast-moving objects have the potential to inflict damage on operational satellites and even spacecraft. It’s important that we are aware of the risks space junk can pose and understand who owns all these orbiting objects.

But why is all this space junk up there cluttering the skies around Earth? 

The simple answer is that it’s just not that easy to remove it. Some space junk will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up, while other pieces may collide and break down into smaller components. However, much will continue orbiting the earth for many years.

With satellites, in particular, the UN has requested that they be removed from orbit within a maximum of 25 years following mission end. While this sounds good in principle, the practicalities of enforcing this as well as the costs and difficulties associated with complying mean that it does not always happen.

Space
It might not seem like that much of a big deal, but large or fast-moving objects have the potential to inflict damage on operational satellites and even spacecraft. It’s important that we are aware of the risks space junk can pose and understand who owns all these orbiting objects. Pixabay

Who Owns Space Junk?

Using data from Space Track, RS Components has been able to analyze this space junk – both decayed debris and objects currently in orbit. The data allows researchers to see which countries own what and paint a fuller picture of the amount of man-made debris orbiting our planet. 

There are over 12,000 man-made objects in orbit around the Earth, plus a further 17,000 pieces of decayed man-made debris. That’s a staggering figure, but when you consider that just three countries are responsible for 93% of space junk, it’s even more surprising. 

Earth
Orbiting our earth are thousands of pieces of debris – space junk. This includes everything from rocket parts to disused satellites, and there’s more up there than you might first think. Pixabay

The US currently has the largest amount of debris in orbit, with a total of 4171 pieces of space junk. They are closely followed by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) which has 4068. Closing the top three is China, with 3550 pieces of space junk in orbit. 

On the other end of the scale, countries including the UK, Germany, North Korea, and Argentina all have less than five pieces of debris in orbit. 

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Space junk is an important problem, yet many people are simply unaware of its scale. Space is undoubtedly mysterious, and it holds many secrets we have yet to unlock, but who would have thought that so many man-made objects are still out there silently orbiting the earth? 

You can see the full data and a handy infographic from RS Components here.

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