Space debris

Tim Peake Mascot Illustration

Tiny pieces of space junk seem harmless. However, at orbital speeds they can become deadly. The compressed air rocket launcher is an explosive way to showcase this.

Is space junk a problem?

Decades of space exploration has left millions of pieces of debris orbiting our Earth, from defunct spacecraft down to tiny dust-sized particles. Even tiny particles pose a threat, as they travel at enormous speeds. This means that they have a huge amount of energy and could cause damage to working spacecraft if they collide.

How does it work?

Orbiting objects travel at tens of thousands of kilometres per hour. Since kinetic (movement) energy is proportional to the velocity squared (KE = ½ mv2) this huge velocity yields an even higher kinetic energy. The launcher can launch a card rocket at around 70 miles per hour. This can give a paper or card rocket enough energy to easily pierce a cardboard box, often traveling in one side and out the other, proving that in orbit, seemingly innocuous tiny objects at high velocity pose extreme danger.

Did you know?

Micrometeoroid and orbital debris (MMOD) impacts occur all the time on the ISS and other  spacecraft. In 2014, the ISS’s altitude was raised by half a mile to avoid an impact from an old part of a European rocket. Just 1cm of space debris could cause critical damage, while anything larger than 10cm can shatter a satellite or spacecraft into pieces.