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Catastrophic space junk could destroy satellites

IANS | Melbourne |

An estimated 170 million pieces of space junk may put satellites such as the International Space Station at the risk of being destroyed, which could have disastrous consequences for the world economy, scientists warned on Wednesday.

Accumulating debris from old rockets and defunct satellites orbit the Earth at very high speeds, and may soon render the upper reaches of the atmosphere unusable, according to experts.

Over 3,000 active satellites currently in orbit are essential for everything from observing the effects of climate change to monitoring for defence purposes.

The satellites in orbit at any given time are worth over AUD 700 billion, and generate about AUD 2 trillion in business every year.

Any damage to them could have disastrous consequences, for our economies and our lives.

"There is so much debris that it is colliding with itself, and creating more debris. A catastrophic avalanche of collisions which could quickly destroy all orbiting satellites is now possible," said Ben Greene, CEO of Space Environment Research Centre in Australia.

Only 22,000 of the estimated 170 million pieces of space debris in orbit are currently being tracked.

Researchers from across the globe met at a conference in Canberra, Australia to tackle the threat and develop a model to manage space traffic, 'ABC News' reported 

The threat is growing as it has become easier for companies to launch objects into orbit, said Moribah Jah, from the University of Texas in the US.

Without action, a catastrophic collision is inevitable, Jah said.