Mike Beversluis

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ground Control to Major Tom

The Straight Dope: Is anyone in charge of keeping satellites from colliding? [via]

Dear Cecil:

As I stare into the beautiful dark sky above my home in Hawaii and see all the stars and satellites, I ponder the possibility of "space accidents." With all those satellites up there, are there any collisions? I don't suppose anybody is handing out OUIs (for orbiting under the influence), but how do they decide what satellite should go where? Who oversees all those orbits? Is it just a stellar free-for-all?

— Roy Orbits Son

Cecil replies:

No, but it's not iron discipline either. To date we've been content to let just about anybody heave stuff into orbit, requiring only minimal reporting for most launches. But with increasing commercialization of space, things are starting to get crowded up there — the Union of Concerned Scientists lists 898 active satellites, operated by everybody from the U.S. to Luxembourg. Given the vastness of space, even in earth's immediate vicinity, it's not like we're talking bumper-to-bumper traffic.

It's worthwhile, before you get too worked up, to calculate the space junk density. It's really, really small.



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