Press Release

Scrap Rain: 100 Tons of Space Debris Fall on Earth Each Year

More than 7,000 tons of satellite scrap fly around the Earth. The first objective is to detect all the fragments. The last is to get rid of them.

The sky began to spit metal balls. The first impacted Pozorrubio de Santiago in the province of Cuenca. Another similar object precipitated that same day on Elda in Alicante. A few days later, three spheres were counted, this time in different parts of the Murcia region. The events were recorded over almost two weeks in November 2015. And although it might seem a picture worthy of the apocalyptic story, the truth is that the origin of those fragments between a few tens of centimeters and four meters in diameter was very profane. These were pieces of space junk that re-entered our planet.

Test to demonstrate that using a rigid and wide wall would not serve to protect a satellite (and also would mean an increase in its weight). It is an aluminum block, 8 centimeters thick and 15 in diameter, frontally impacted with an aluminum ball of 1.2 centimeters in diameter at 6.8 kilometers per second.

When in 1957 Russia launched the first Sputnik, apparently, no one cared about what would happen to the satellites when they ran out of fuel, suffered an accident or simply ended their mission. After six decades of the space race and more than 7,000 devices sent to the universe, this neglect has an obvious consequence - many stay there, accumulating in a floating dump. Like a huge swarm, today, around the globe, around 7,000 tons of waste, partly complete satellites and partly fragments resulting from explosions and collisions, as well as parts of the rockets with which they are propelled. The micrometeorites of natural origin are added to them in the large trash can that surrounds us. "At the beginning, the nations were not aware of the problem," says British Emmet Fletcher, head of communication at the European Space Agency (ESA) in Villa Franca del Castillo, Madrid. "But now, we are very aware that we have to control and reduce the space junk."