Space Junk Monitoring Station
A 21st Century Satellite Orbiting Earth
Outer Space is so cluttered with man-made debris that the United States and Norway are building a space junk monitoring station in the Arctic.
The amount of junk out there has doubled since 1980 and poses a navigational hazard. If something hit a populated space station or an unmanned satellite, it would cause serious damage. Trackers estimate there are 9,500 man-made objects in orbit around earth. Some 93 percent of them are space garbage -- everything from dead satellites and booster rockets to bolts and old camera lenses.
The giant radar station, to be known as Globus II, will track the orbiting debris in hopes of warning space travelers of any impending danger. The 132-foot-tall dome, to be built in Norway a few miles from Russian military bases on the Kola Peninsula, is expected to be completed in the year 2000.
It will be operated by Norway's Military Intelligence Service. Norway is the only member of NATO that shares a border with Russia.
Traffic watch. While the U.S. Space Command radar tracks more than 7,000 baseball-sized or larger objects, most litter in space is too small to track. A small piece of plastic could dent a steel plate at 15,650 miles per hour. A space station probably would rupture if struck by a marble at 14,300 miles per hour.
- Space Shuttle Challenger. In 1983, a fleck of paint gouged a pea-sized pit in the windshield of the space shuttle Challenger.
- Mir Space Station. Cosmonauts have clamped dust catchers to the Russian space station Mir to see how much debris is swirling nearby.
- International Space Station. Flight controllers in Moscow had to move the fledgling International Space Station out of the way in October 1999 when a spent rocket came too close. The station was orbiting Earth at an altitude ranging from 230 to 247 miles. The U.S. Space Command warned NASA that a used-up Pegasus rocket would come within a mile of the station. Flight controllers moved the station 15 miles away. When the first elements of the station were sent aloft in 1998, NASA knew it would have to swerve the station at least twice a year to avoid debris.
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