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ESA’s Space Environment Report 2022

on 11 May 2022

Our planet is surrounded by spacecraft carrying out important work to study our changing climate, deliver global communication and navigation services and help us answer important scientific questions.

But their orbits are churning with deadly fragments of the past – fast-moving pieces of defunct satellites and rockets trapped in orbit – that threaten our future in space.

In 2002, the Inter-Agency Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) published the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines. The measures described in the guidelines set out how to design, fly, and dispose of space missions in ways that prevent the creation of further debris. They were major step for the protection of our important orbits and have served as the baseline for space policy, national legislation and technical standards for two decades.

Since 2016, ESA’s Space Debris Office has published an annual Space Environment Report to provide a transparent overview of global space activities and determine how well these and other international debris-reduction measures are improving the long-term sustainability of spaceflight.

Here are some of the key findings of the 2022 report.

More satellites are being launched today than ever before.

  • More satellites are being launched today than ever before.
  • This is driven by the increasing number and scale of commercial satellite constellations in low-Earth orbit.
  • Most, but not all, rocket bodies launched today are safely placed in compliant disposal orbits or removed from low-Earth orbit before they can fragment into clouds of dangerous debris.
  • But active satellites today still have to dodge out of the way of objects that were launched decades ago and have since broken into fragments.
  • Not enough satellites are removed from heavily congested low-Earth orbits at the end of their lives.
  • Technological advances are improving our ability to spot and track smaller fragments of space debris.
  • Our behaviour in space is improving but is still unsustainable in the long term.

More details here.

Image credit: ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO