Science & Technology

Space Junk and the Moon

By Elyas Layachi

Volume 2 Issue 4

February 10, 2022

Space Junk and the Moon

Image provided by MIT

Introduction

Every year, thousands of spacecraft are launched into Earth orbit, whether they be satellites, telescopes, or rocket tests. These spacecraft have been accumulating since the launch of Sputnik 1 (the first artificial satellite), and many are now either broken or retired. Known as space junk, these dead spacecraft have nowhere to go and remain in Earth orbit until they near the Earth’s atmosphere, posing the threat of collisions with other, active spacecraft. Such collisions produce even more space junk that becomes lethal to both active satellites and astronauts. In some rare scenarios, space junk can exit Earth’s orbit and impact our distant neighbor: the moon.


SpaceX and Space Junk

One of these rare scenarios is about to occur with a SpaceX rocket. One of SpaceX’s rockets that launched several years ago is on a collision course with the moon and is scheduled to impact it very soon. This rocket, the Falcon 9 booster stage from a SpaceX mission launch in 2015, was supposed to return to Earth, but it did not have enough reserved fuel to do so. As a result, it remained in its orbit, which was chaotically placed between the gravitational forces of the Earth, moon, and Sun. With so many sources of gravity acting on the booster stage, its orbit became chaotic, and the moon’s gravity began pulling it towards the surface. This anticipated collision with the lunar surface could be the first documented rocket collision with the moon. It is expected to hit the far side of the moon on March 4th, 2022, at about 5,771 miles per hour, exploding on impact.


Conclusion

Despite how interesting and rare this event is, space junk is still a great problem and poses a threat to both spacecraft and astronauts working in Earth orbit. With space junk increasing with every collision and space launch, action must be taken. If we continue to ignore the space junk problem, Earth orbit might become so crowded that leaving it to travel to the Moon and beyond will seem dangerous and impossible.