By Alexandra Kahn | MIT Media Lab
MIT researchers co-lead the design of a global Space Sustainability Rating system that will soon be operational
Millions of objects created by humans orbit the Earth, creating a need for innovation to protect the space environment. Credit: European Space Agency
Each day, new and innovative space technologies are being developed in countries around the world, and with that, a steady stream of satellites, rockets, cargo ships, and crew vehicles are being launched into the Earth’s orbit and beyond.
So what happens to these systems when they come to the end of their functional life, or malfunction and break?
Some are programmed to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere where, if all goes well, they incinerate safely upon entry. Some are programmed to use their last bit of fuel to launch further into outer space, into so-called graveyard or disposal orbits. Other chunks of space debris are left to float in Earth’s orbit and as a result, hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk circulate our planet, traveling at tens of thousands of miles per hour. It’s not hard to imagine how, at that speed and velocity, any kind of collision with a working satellite or spacecraft could mean instantaneous destruction.