Russia shot down one of its own defunct satellites in an anti-satellite missile test over the weekend, creating a dangerous cloud of debris that will expand and remain in low Earth orbit for years to come.
In an era where society depends on satellites more than ever, the test raises concerns not just about the militarization of space, but also about the potential for a debris disaster that could jeopardize communications, navigation, weather forecasts, and access to space in the future.
Space debris has built up over the past six decades, as old satellites and other spacecraft have become defunct or have collided to create millions of pieces of fast-moving debris orbiting the planet. And with a wave of new satellites being launched in recent years, many of them small and difficult to track, the odds of satellite collisions are increasing.
Debris in low Earth orbit circles the planet at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour. Impacts at such exorbitant speeds can be devastating. Each piece of debris also has the potential to strike other objects in orbit and create more debris.