US Tries to Clean Up Earth’s Orbit with ‘Space Junk’ Rule

Oct 5, 2022

The US government wants to take its space junk out of Earth's orbit. It has taken the first legal steps to do so. Parts of US spacecraft are still in Earth's orbit. That junk threatens the safety of space missions.

Last week, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said new satellites can only remain in space for five years. After that, a satellite must leave orbit. Or, it can be sent to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Tens of thousands of large pieces of debris are orbiting Earth. The buildup comes from decades of rocket missions and satellites launched into space. They threaten working satellites. And the trash can be a danger to astronauts in space. Even stray debris as small as a nickel can pose dangers to spacecraft. After all, they orbit at speeds of roughly 15,000 mph and could number in the millions.

Experts warn there are about 30,000 pieces of space junk that could cause issues for a mission. They say this junk could cause a disaster.

But just who regulates space litter is up in the air. Figuring out who will be responsible for identifying and removing such debris has been a big challenge. Analysts hope the FCC’s action is the first step of many to clean up space. They hope other countries will take similar actions.

“It’s about establishing rules for space and having a legal framework that people have to adhere to,” an associate professor of space engineering told NBC News. “That’s a big step.”

Photo from NASA courtesy of Unsplash.

According to information in the story, what will happen to new US satellites after five years? (Common Core RI.5.1; RI.6.1)
a. They must leave orbit.
b. They must be sent to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
c. They must fall to the Earth’s surface.
d. A or B
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