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Space Debris in Orbit When you see images of Earth from outer space, you don’t notice the 500,000 pieces of debris floating around in low-earth orbit. All of that debris is affecting the satellite business, threatening the future commercialization of space, and jeopardizing the growth of the space economy.

The space economy includes both public and private sector developers of space-enabled products and services. In the space economy, there are three main industries. One industry is focused more on Earth, which includes things that deliver something to space, or something that is in space, but benefits the people on Earth. Another industry is focused on space itself, including space travel and tourism in space. The last main industry is under development and includes the process of mining asteroids and exporting resources from space. Even though the industries are developing, the space economy is already helping businesses on Earth.

Business in space is fairly new dating back to 1962. Telstar 1 was the first communications satellite, developed by Bell Telephone Laboratories, and was launched on July 10, 1962, by American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). Since then, more businesses have been commercializing space. However, debris in low-earth orbit threatens the space economy. In 2007, the Chinese government destroyed a defunct weather satellite, creating another 2,500 pieces of junk. Even more debris followed in the 2009 collision of a 1,900 pound Russian Cosmos with a 1,200 pound Iridium Communications Inc satellite.

This makes it harder to find safe orbits when launching another satellite. Even the smallest piece of debris traveling at a fast speed can have a huge destructive impact.

Although the space debris is affecting the space economy, it is also creating an opportunity for companies that help detect and specialize in tracking space debris. One such company is, Aerospace Corp.

Bill Ailor, Aerospace Corp researcher said: “Knowing where stuff is [is] the first part of the problem.”

Another business that also helps detect space debris is LeoLabs Inc. This is an up and coming business that uses radar technology to track debris. The U.S Department of Defense has also been sharing data about where the debris is located and how large it is. They have a public database where people can access that information, making it easier to launch satellites.

Even though we are gaining more knowledge about the pieces of debris floating around the low-earth orbit, it is still a large problem for many businesses and researchers. Clearing up the accumulating debris that is in the low-earth orbit can mean having more opportunities to explore space, and expand the space economy.

[Sources: Bloomberg; NASA]

Student bio: This article was written by staff writer Mariama Bah. Mariama is in seventh grade at Sennett Middle School. She is interested in writing articles about space science. Her goal is to become an astrobiologist when she’s older. In her free time, Mariama enjoys reading, drawing and listening to music.