Decades of space activity have littered Earth’s orbit with orbital debris, popularly known as space junk. Objects in orbit include spent rocket bodies, inactive satellites, a wrench, and even a toothbrush. The current quantity and density of man-made debris significantly increases the odds of future collisions either as debris damages space systems or as colliding debris creates more space debris. The growth of orbital debris presents the United States and the entire international community with several key challenges to the sustainability, safety, stability, and security of the outer space environment, and represents an ever-increasing threat to both human and robotic space flight.
On May 13, the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution hosted Jer Chyi Liou, chief scientist for orbital debris at NASA, and Victoria Samson, Washington office director at Secure World Foundation to discuss these issues. Senior Fellow Frank A. Rose moderated the discussion.