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space junk floating over North America and the globe

Space “trashsteroids” coming in hot

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s space junk hurtling toward your house! More than 170 million pieces of space junk are floating above us: Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites, old Chinese rocket boosters, dead Soviet satellites and a whole host of NASA shrapnel.

That’s about 10,800 tons of space junk orbiting Earth — and 200 of those objects are huge rockets with the potential to break into thousands of pieces, creating a cascade of collisions. Yikes.

Will this stuff hit Earth? 

It’s already happening. Governments and space agencies are worried, to put it lightly. Countries are signing treaties and start-ups are working hard to devise intelligent ways to clean up nearly a century’s worth of space trash.

Scientists say there’s a 10% chance a person will be struck and killed by a spacecraft or spent rocket booster within the next decade. 

So, where did it all come from?

Since 1957, an estimated 15,430 satellites have been launched into orbit. Just over 10K are still there. Some of the most concerning objects are massive Russian rocket boosters and Chinese rockets. 

Eighteen of Russia’s nine-ton Zenit rockets are in orbit above Earth. Picture a bus with no driver. That’s what we’re dealing with here.

We’re No. 1 … in space littering

The country responsible for most of that stuff is … drumroll, please … the U.S. Chalk up 8,497 objects in low-Earth orbit to the U.S.

NASA has done a heck of a lot of missions and American companies like SpaceX are adding significant numbers. So far, Elon and co. have launched around 4,100 satellites out of a planned 12,000 (and maybe 30K after that if approved). 

Next comes Russia with 4,836 and China with 4,047. Every other space program pales in comparison.

Terrifying and interactive

Everything you want in a map! But really, you can use this online tool from LeoLabs to see what’s floating around — in real-time. Zoom in, rotate the Earth and click a flying object to see what it is. Spoiler: Most are satellites or other payloads dropped there on purpose.

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