by Alok SharmaSecretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
On 2 July 2018, a £100 million satellite called CryoSat-2 was completing its daily rounds of monitoring ice caps back on Earth from an orbital vantage point 700 kilometres above us, when mission controllers spotted a chunk of space debris hurtling towards it at 17,000 miles per hour.
To avert a potentially catastrophic collision, engineers fired up CryoSat’s thrusters and moved it out of harm’s way. This near miss was not the first, and it will not be the last.
An estimated 20,000 pieces of space debris, better known as ‘space junk’; are whizzing around the Earth as you read this. This includes zombie satellites and whole junkyards’ worth of whirling fragments left over from space missions.
Without the right protection, a four-inch piece of space junk could breach the walls of a satellite and smash it into thousands of parts, and in doing so, set off a chain reaction that could see a cascade of collisions that expands many years.
This chain reaction is known as the Kessler Syndrome, after the space debris expert Don Kessler, who predicted in 1976 that the space around Earth ...