The increase in space pollution continues to grow over the years. This so-called space junks vary in size and could be as small as paint flecks, or big spent rocket stages. Whatever size of the space debris may be, it’s hazardous effects are apparent and could lead to serious trouble.
Space debris is a term used in unfunctional human-made objects in the Earth’s orbit. Some of the debris found in space are old spacecraft that are no longer in use, different components from a destroyed shuttle, and other small objects that are a by-product of an explosion or collision.
The last update regarding space debris was in January 2019, which stated that there are roughly 128 million pieces of tiny space debris – smaller than 1 cm; around 900,000 pieces of space junks ranging from 1 cm – 10 cm, and 34,000 pieces of large space debris. This continuously growing number is imposing a threat to our spacecraft as well as our planet.
Due to the potential harm of these space debris, it became a theory that the Earth’s orbit may be unpassable if these numbers continue to grow.
Now that we have this in mind, let us know, are there any spacecraft in history ever been hit by space debris in the Earth’s orbit? If a spacecraft got struck, what would happen to it?
Notable incidents where space debris hit a spacecraft
As a result of the growing population of space junks, and considering the number of spacecraft sent to space, it is no surprise that collisions occur in the Earth’s orbit. Throughout history, there are several reported incidents in space about damages caused by space debris; here are some:
- Cerise – Cerise is a French word for cherry. It was a military reconnaissance satellite in France that used to intercept HF radio signals. In July 1995, Cerise launched into space and started its operation, until 1996 when space debris from an Ariane rocket hit it. The collision left massive damage to the spacecraft. The incident resulted in being the first case of a collision of two artificial objects in space.
- Aura – Aura is a multi-national research satellite from NASA, which orbits around the Earth. As the major part of the Earth Observing System, its main objective is to study the Earth’s ozone layer, air quality, and climate. Over the years, Aura managed to provide excellent results that greatly benefit the study of the Earth. Although it suffered some minor problems, it was on March 12, 2020, when it lost half of the power from one of its eleven solar panels – which was hit by space debris.
- BLITS – BLITS stands for Ball Lens in the Space. This Russian satellite launched on September 17, 2009, in which the main objective is to obtain SLR data regarding geophysics, geodynamics, and relativity. Its appearance is pure spherical that is covered with multilayer glass. The original mission duration of BLITS is five years; however, it got struck by space debris in 2013, which interrupted the mission.
Throughout history, it is apparent that spacecraft are exposed to many dangers due to space debris. Although there are methods developed to lower down and remove these space pollutions, we cannot deny that the number of spacecraft being sent to space is also increasing. In future generations, the number of space junks in orbit might double.