In 2016, Al-Raed participated in European Space AgencyTimothy Peck, image of ISS window shattering caused by a small piece of space junk.
The piece of debris, which might be a paint crust or a metallic part of a satellite, was a few thousand millimeters wide, not much larger than a single Escherichia coli cell.
But how can something so small cause visual damage?
Vishnu Reddy, an astronomer at the University of Arizona explained, “Everything is about speed. Objects at the height of the International Space Station and most other satellites, at about 400 kilometers above the Earth, orbit our planet once every 90 minutes
Robert Frost, NASA’s instructor and flight controller, reported on Quora that this was over 25,200 km / h, 10 times the speed of a bullet shot on Earth.
And collision energy is not only related to the size of an object, as velocity (velocity and direction) is just as important. Which is why a small bullet can cause so much damage.
According to a statement by Reddy to the “Life Science” website, when moving at a sufficiently high speed, any object could be dangerous.
Bear in mind that speed is an additive, said Keri Kahoe, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. Therefore, if two objects are moving towards each other when colliding, this increases their impact energy.
“Think of it like driving on a highway,” Kahoe told Live Science. He explained that if a car, even a lightweight, such as a motorcycle, collides with a car while speeding in the opposite direction, that could be disastrous for both drivers.
Likewise, in space, a fast-moving piece of paint hitting the International Space Station could leave a relatively large mark.
And in space, satellites, spacecraft, and debris orbit along many different paths. While one object may orbit horizontally around the equator, another object may orbit vertically around the poles. Even some objects move “in the opposite direction,” which means that they rotate against the direction of Earth’s orbit. As more debris sweeps through space, low Earth orbit (in which the International Space Station orbits) turns into a busy highway at rush hour.
“There could be a lot of potential for damage,” said Kahoe.
The astronauts on the International Space Station were lucky that a large chunk of debris did not hit their window. According to the European Space Agency, a microbe-sized chunk might leave nothing but a dent, but a pea-sized sliver could disrupt critical flight systems. And a chunk of debris the size of a ping pong ball “would have a catastrophic effect.”
At this size, Reddy said, space garbage could rapidly depress the space station, making it impossible for astronauts to breathe on board.
Space waste is a growing problem. Earth’s orbit contains at least 128 million pieces of debris, 34,000 of which are larger than 10 cm, according to the Natural History Museum in London, and these are just large enough pieces to discover.
These small pieces form when satellites naturally roam under intense ultraviolet rays, when larger chunks of space debris collide or when satellites are deliberately destroyed.
The larger pieces include 3,000 abandoned satellites, as well as nails and other parts dropped by spacecraft during launch operations.
Researchers are working to develop ways to catch trash from space, such as using hooks, nets and magnets to pull it back into Earth’s atmosphere.
And the presence of a lot of space junk could lead to a danger to humans in using the Earth’s orbit for satellites and other types of spacecraft. Reddy continued, “We have not approached this point now, but it is important to advance the problem of space waste to prevent further accumulation.”