Tech. Sgt. Ronald Dunn, 729th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, guides a Mongolian driver who is backing the truck toward an Air Force Reserve C-17 Globemaster III in Mongolia, Aug. 26. Dunn was part of a crew from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., who were assigned to a mission to retrieve space debris that fell to earth last summer. The parts were identified as expended rocket parts from an Air Force missile launched into space nearly a decade ago. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Linda Welz)


Increasing attention is being paid to the repercussion of rocket launches and space debris reentries on Earth’s fragile atmosphere, coupled to impacts on global climate and stratospheric ozone.

Exacerbating the situation is the rise of worldwide launch rates and the hurling of mega-constellations of satellites into Earth orbit. Then there’s the associated clutter of deceased spacecraft, discarded booster stages, and countless pieces of human-made refuse, from solid rocket motor effluents to stray nuts and bolts, tiny paint chips and droplets bubbling out of spacecraft coolant systems.

Space debris impact on functioning satellite.
Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

In short, it’s a heavenly mess – with long-term consequences.

The state of affairs has already been characterized by orbital debris experts as a “tragedy of the commons.”

For detailed information, go to my new Scientific American story with Lee Billings – “Don’t Fear China’s Falling Rocket—Fear the Future It Foretells: Long considered trivial, the effects of rocket launches and reentering space debris on global warming and ozone loss could soon become too large to ignore” – at:

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

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