Of the 34,260 objects currently being tracked in orbit around Earth, only 25% are operational satellites. The rest is junk—broken satellites or discarded rocket fragments—and Space has a problem with them.

This is what the United Nations University finds in its report and characterizes space junk as one of six tipping points that may irreversibly affect the future of humans and the planet.

It is estimated that there are about 130 million pieces of space debris which are too small to detect, measuring between one millimeter and one centimeter. Space debris travels at over 25,000 kilometers per hour, and even the smallest can cause significant damage if it collides with something else. The problem is getting worse as more and more objects are launched into space and the debris accumulates.

Danger to the planet

The turning points are defined as the specific ones limits after which they occur changes which they may have irreversible, catastrophic effects to people and the planet. When these limits are exceeded then a social system or an ecosystem will no longer be able to compensate for risks and provide its expected functions. After this point the risk of catastrophic effects increases significantly.

The tipping point in space junk is, according to the report, the period when Earth’s orbit becomes so filled with debris that a conflict will set off a chain reaction of conflicts. If this happens, orbit of Earth could become uselesswhich would threaten our ability to operate satellites.

The report is published a month before the UN Climate Conference and highlights that climate change is playing a big role in pushing us towards these tipping points and that the effects are already visible in countries around the world.

The other dangers to the planet and humanity analyzed in the report, are:

– the acceleration of species extinctions on the planet, which can cause chain extinctions of dependent species, and even the collapse of the entire ecosystem,

– the depletion of groundwater which may result in the loss of people’s access to fresh water resources,

– the melting of the glaciers which due to warming is happening twice as fast today than in the last two decades,

– more frequent and intense heat waves responsible for an average of 500,000 additional deaths per year over the past two decades, and finally

the inability of people to insure themselves in the event of disasters.