Space junk could cause war, say researchers

Technically Incorrect: As increasing amounts of floating detritus meander around space, what happens if they strike a military satellite by accident?

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


An impression of all the space junk floating around earth.

Stuart Grey/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I spend most of my days hidden in a bunker below stairs.

This is because I've heard so many portents of doom over the last year or so that I can't possibly risk living what used to be a normal life.

There are apparently threats from all sides. Everyone is out to get us. Moreover, there are so many disparate characters vying to be our next president that you never know how excitable they might be with their fingers over the nuclear button.

Now, however, I have another reason to worry: space junk. As more disused floating gadgets wander above our world, there's a greater chance of war.

How is this so? Well, as the Guardian reports, Russian space scientists say that there's every chance one of the bits of space junk could accidentally smack into a military satellite.

Now you know what happens when a military satellite suffers a hit. Someone with a hair-trigger mentality will assume it's an attack from a foreign power and immediately want to strike back.

The scientists have published a report detailing their fears in Acta Astronautica. In it, Vitaly Adushkin of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow says that space junk poses a "special political danger."

So do half of the world's politicians, you might say. But we deal with that. What's so special about space junk?

Adushkin believes there might be some ignorance involved in assessing the real cause of the spatial disturbance.

He writes that a fender-bender between some space junk and a military satellite "may provoke political or even armed conflict between space-faring nations. The owner of the impacted and destroyed satellite can hardly quickly determine the real cause of the accident."

There's the problem. Humans are reactive.

Currently, there are said to be around 21,000 pieces of space garbage over 10cms (around 3.9 inches) floating around. There are another 500,000 bits measuring between 1-10 cms (around 0.4-4 inches). Most of these are flying around very quickly.

Already, writes Adushkin, there have been incidents involving defense satellites. In 2013, a Russian satellite called Blits was blitzed by debris that apparently came from a destroyed Chinese weather satellite. And in 2014, the International Space Station had to swerve to avoid space junk five times.

There have been fears for some time about how space junk might wreck our lives. In 2011, the Pentagon warned that it could have the heinous consequence of knocking out our cell phones.

NASA has long been concerned about space junk. It says, however, that the biggest danger comes from "non-trackable debris."

We don't know about everything that's up there and out there. And on top of all that, there's aliens.

The future president's job will not be an easy one. Imagine if we went to war because of a crash in outer space. Stranger things have been known to happen.