The amount of junk in space is rising exponentially, with continuous collisions between abandoned equipment, spent rockets and other debris creating ever growing clouds of dangerous fragments, an influential report warned.
The report, commissioned by Nasa, says the quantity of hazardous material circling the Earth has reached a "tipping point" and poses a real and increasing danger to satellites and the International Space Station. It suggests developing a clean-up strategy, which could include catching debris with nets, magnets or giant umbrellas.
The U.S. National Research Council was asked to review the space agency's meteoroid and orbital debris programmes last April following a request from the White House. Meteoroids are particles or larger lumps of rock in the solar system.
Objects in space ranging from the huge upper stages of Russian rockets to tiny particles of liquid coolant are tracked by ground based radars operated by Nasa and other space agencies. About half a million fragments and objects larger than a centimetre are in low orbit around Earth. Even minuscule specks of debris can cause serious damage to spacecraft and satellites because of the immense speeds at which they travel.