Home → Magazine Archive → May 2021 (Vol. 64, No. 5) → A Traffic Cop for Low Earth Orbit → Abstract

A Traffic Cop for Low Earth Orbit

By Keith Kirkpatrick

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 64 No. 5, Pages 15-17

[article image]

On Earth, avoiding collisions is a key priority for traffic cops, air traffic controllers, and the parents of toddlers. It is no different in space—and perhaps even more critical—given that objects orbiting the Earth are moving at more than 17,000 m.p.h., which means that even very small objects less than a centimeter in diameter have caused damage to the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle, and satellites.

In fact, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) estimates there are more than 500,000 such objects orbiting the Earth that are larger than a marble, and at least a million smaller pieces of debris that cannot be tracked. Based on the growing number of commercial and government launches of spacecraft, satellites, and even space stations, the number of objects that will need to be catalogued, tracked, and managed is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. And the solutions to this issue are fraught with both technical and political challenges.


No entries found