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"Space Junk" is a Global Issue

illustration  of competing satellitesThe past 50 years of space exploration and utilization have created an orbiting junkyard of orbital debris. Over 22,000 pieces of space junk—10 centimeters or larger—are currently being tracked in Earth’s orbit. But there is a much larger junkyard of debris, with smaller pieces numbering in the hundreds of thousands to millions that are beyond the scope of current tracking capabilities and are just as capable of causing significant damage.

Just as weather affects our daily lives, so does Earth’s orbiting junkyard. The detrimental effects of space junk grow worse each year, putting our daily lives and national infrastructures increasingly at risk as our communications, science, and security networks rely ever more heavily on the interconnected system of satellites orbiting the skies.

While we understand weather and have learned to deal with it as best we can, the impacts and disposition of orbital debris are not fully understood. Unlike weather, space junk is man-made and will significantly hinder our future economy and national security. It is a growing threat to space-based communications, weather forecasting, banking processes, scientific exploration, Earth observation and future space tourism.

There is no existing program in place to deal with orbital debris, but new satellites are continuing to be launched at a rate of over a hundred each year and most of these launches will contribute to the already-large orbital debris population.

With over 60 countries operating in space, the exponentially growing problem of orbital debris will take international collaboration and partnership to research and develop innovative solutions and strategies.

What is Being Done About Orbital Debris?

The space community has worked hard to mitigate excessive proliferation of debris by establishing voluntary rules for spacecraft manufacturers and operators that help minimize the creation of new debris. However, there is no system or program in place to remove or clean up near-earth orbit and there is not even one program addressing the long-term environmental control of space.

Orbital debris is a threat to operating spacecraft, human spaceflight and critical communications systems and the level of this threat is building exponentially.

So far, debris has been a nuisance and has created minimal damage—the threat has been “acceptable”—because the cost of cleaning it up is so much greater than the satellite damage, thus far. But, in the not-too-distant future, the cost of cleaning up space may approach the value of continuous damage to satellites.

Now is the time to organize an international collaborative center of education and research that addresses solutions to the space trash problem. While any cleanup program will take years to implement and decades to carry out, the future and efficacy of space-based communications lies in tackling this critical issue.

The Vision

The Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research (CODER) has been established to address all issues related to orbital debris. These include technology and systems, space policy, economics, legal, and sociological issues. A long-term goal is the development of policies, laws and space systems that will lead to the efficient remediation and control of space environmental pollutants.

The center seeks international collaboration and inclusiveness and envisions multiple sources of domestic and international support. CODER will be an international clearing house for research and educational programs that address orbital debris issues, and it will be a focal point for idea interchange through conferences, meetings and outreach.

The Mission

The Center for Orbital Debris Education and Research (CODER) will:

  • Create innovative educational and research activities in support of center goals
  • Foster the collaboration of academic, governmental and commercial entities both within the US and internationally
  • Establish and maintain a core interdisciplinary team to spearhead research into each dimension of the orbital debris problem
  • Solicit and coordinate the distribution of research and development funds across multiple agencies and organizations in support of the center’s mission
  • Establish an economic plan to support both the near-term and long-term center objectives
  • Contribute to and support the development of international policies governing the mitigation and remediation of orbital debris
  • Disseminate and share knowledge and findings to the international community

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