Questions for ‘Space trash could kill satellites, space stations — and astronauts’

an illustration of a ring of space junk around Earth

Broken down satellites, used rocket parts and other pieces of trash — even astronaut gloves — pollute the near-space environment. That can pose big problems for spacecraft and any astronauts in them.

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To accompany “Space trash could kill satellites, space stations — and astronauts


Before Reading:

1.  What is space “trash” and what does it consist of?  

2.  What types of risks do you think space trash poses?

During Reading:

1.  What notable thing sent astronauts aboard the International Space Station scrambling on November 15, 2021? About how long did the high alert last?

2.  At what altitude does most space junk orbit?

3.  How many pieces of space junk larger than 10-centimeters (4-inches) long does the European Space Agency estimate are orbiting our planet?

4.  When did the first satellite launch? What was its name and what country launched it?

5.  How many satellites entered space in 2021 alone? How many satellites are collectively now in orbit? How many of them work?

6.  What does LEO stand for and where is it?

7.  Who contributed a glove to space junk? When did that happen?

8.  How have scientists been monitoring the rate of collisions between satellites and smaller pieces of space debris, according to the story? What are some examples they’ve witnessed?

9.  What is the so-called Kessler Syndrome and why does it worry space-debris researchers?

10.  What is a graveyard orbit?

11.  What’s one new strategy for removing satellites from orbit?

12.  What de-orbiting recommendation for new satellites did an international committee of space agencies and others recently make?

After Reading:

1.  After reading this story, identify what you see as the three leading risks posed by space debris. Now rank them in order of importance and explain why you consider the top two relatively more important. Afterward, share your rankings with the rest of your class. Then have the class vote as on which it, as a whole, views as the single most important concern.

2.  Space debris poses a big risk to any human-engineered structure in space, including satellites, spacecraft and telescopes. Do some internet research and identify two or three new approaches being worked on to protect those structures or to remove some of the space junk that poses risks to them. Which, if any, of those new technologies can be deployed within the next five years? How about within the next 10 years? Discuss as a class what this tells you about the seriousness of the problem.