Space isn’t so empty after all

This is the most impactful and cool visualization I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe ever. It illustrates how 60 years of throwing objects into Earth orbit have made our near-planetary space very crowded. An alien civilization approaching our planet would see it just like this, a planet surrounded by a dense fog of rapidly-orbiting satellites, used launch vehicles, and space junk. We’ve treated our orbital space like a hillbilly front yard.

I really think that a next-generation career (OK, maybe 2 generations from now) will be piloting a cleanup vehicle – approaching and capturing objects that clutter up low-Earth orbit, then salvaging them.

While it’s great that SpaceX doesn’t contribute to the junk problem (their reusable booster strategy), but *does* contribute to the density by launching hundreds of Starlink satellites per month.

The simulation and visualization by Leolabs is a little misleading, because it gives us no feel for altitude. We’re looking from a high POV and all of the objects look like they’re on the same vertical plane. Of course that’s not so, and the reason we can still launch anything through that clutter cloud is that the total volume of LEO orbits is very, very large. You can get a feel for the clutter by altitude with Leolabs perigee filter. But unabated, at some point the density will make launches problematic, and that’s when the space salvage business will take off (pun intended). I’d love to be around to see it.

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