Just saw a CBS report on the possibility that space debris could potentially have punched a fatal hole in Columbia, though of course they have no idea if this was the case.
But it does raise a rather scary question. Currently, there are millions of bits of debris in orbit, and many of them are large enough to cause serious damage. Of course, that’s still low enough that we can avoid the larger bits (though several shuttle missions have been hit and damaged). Yet because they travel at speeds of something like 20,000 miles an hour, if they are large enough, there is litterally no way for us to sheild against an impact with modern materials. At some point, it must get to be impossible to navigate: the peices move too fast to steer around, and too hard to predict or track them all.
So I’m thinking about two possible scenarios.
One is simply that over a long time, we build up so much debris that space above earth becomes unavigable. The second would be a major space disaster or two (say, a nuclear rocket on its way to Mars blowing up) that would leave tons and tons of debris at once.
In either case, are such scenarios imaginable to the point where humanity’s safe access to orbit would be ruined: where any craft going up would face a high risk of being ripped to shreds by debris? I suppose it would take knowing how long this debris generally stays up, and of course the absolutely unimaginable amount of space to be filled (of which I’m not sure how to calculate, not knowing the altitudes for normal orbits or the size of the band where most orbits take place).
And could someone deliberately destroy our access to space by launching unmanned rockets filled with debris and blowing them up in space? How far along would the space program of a nation need to be to do this on a large enough scale?