‘Satellite killers’ spark chilling warning over untraceable space debris in earth’s orbit

Dan Ceperley warns of dangerous space debris

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Dan Ceperley is the founder and CEO of LeoLabs, a US-based start-up that maps debris in space, he has warned that the amount of junk floating in Earth’s orbit poses a serious and widely unrecognised risk. He told Express.co.uk that hundreds of thousands of pieces of old satellites, missiles and rockets each hold the potential to trigger a “catastrophic collision” in Earth’s orbit. 

Mr Ceperley said: “The larger stuff, is kind of 10 centimetres and larger, and it’s all made by human activities in space.

“So it’s dead satellites, it’s old rocket bodies and it’s pieces of those, whether they kind of blew up themselves or were part of a test or part of a collision.

“They’re fragments of old satellites and rockets, and they’re typically in space for a long time, decades at a time.

“Just the way space works things are going so fast that they lap the Earth every 90 minutes, and most of them will stay up there for years.

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He added: “There’s good scientific estimates saying that there’s a few 100,000 pieces of even smaller debris down to two centimetres in size, that are lethal to satellites and are not tracked today.

“There’s enough kinetic energy in something small like that if it hits a satellite.

“it can actually shatter the satellite create a cloud of debris.

“So that means 95 per cent of this catastrophic collision risk is untracked.”

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In November, Russia conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) rocket test which blew up a retired satellite.

Russia’s Nudol missile struck the Kosmos-1408 satellite on November 15.

The fallout from the destroyed satellite causes astronauts on the Internation space station to take emergency measures as fragments flew towards the structure.

British astronaut Tim Peake branded the missile launch as reckless. 

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He told MPs on the House of Commons Defence Committee: “We were shocked by that Russian anti-satellite test, in particular the recklessness of introducing so much space debris into a low earth orbit where it will have an impact for a number of years.

“Space is becoming more contested and what Russia did was against the existing space treaties.

“Our critical national infrastructure is dependent on the space environment. We have to protect our assets and look at this sort of behaviour.

“It is going to require a lot of diplomacy to ensure space is used responsibly.”

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