Space junk orbiting the Earth could be a threat to a nation's security. According to Russian scientists, fragments left from used rockets and other debris could cause damage to military satellites, which would be mistaken as an enemy attack.
'This is a politically dangerous dilemma,' Vitaly Adushkin told The Guardian. Even tiny bits of space junk still have the energy to destroy the satellite, researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow said.
'The owner of the impacted and destroyed satellite can hardly quickly determine the real cause of the accident,' Adushkin and his colleagues wrote in their article published in the journal Acta Astronautica. They have dubbed it as a "special political danger" because it is difficult to confirm if a military satellite is struck by hurtling space debris or is intentionally attacked by another nation. This could eventually provoke a political row or even an armed conflict.
The study argued that spacefaring efforts through the years have caused a dramatic rise in the amount of debris crowding the low Earth orbit. Adushkin and his colleagues warned that it could result in a “cascade process” wherein small chunks of debris could produce even smaller fragments as they crash into one another.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also reported in 2011 that the amount of space junk has been exponentially rising. The agency claimed that the debris on space pose a threat to satellites and the International Space Station (ISS).
In 2013, the Russian satellite named Blits was disabled after it collided with a space junk. The debris was a product of China’s act of shooting down its old weather satellites in 2007 using a missile. It left at least 3,000 pieces of space junk now orbiting the Earth.
The ISS also took actions five times to evade space debris in 2014. The space station has been repeatedly struck by flying paint, prompting ground staff to change some of its windows, The Guardian reports.