Skip to main content

Space junk is piling up in orbit, and these are the biggest polluters

Which country is the worst offender when it comes to filling Earth’s orbit with space junk? RS Components, a distributor of electronic, electrical and industrial components, has compiled the figures, and singled out the countries most responsible for the currently close to 30,000 pieces of space detritus orbiting our planet.

They found that Russia is responsible for approximately 14,403 pieces of space junk, primary leftover space shuttle components and defunct satellites. In second place is the United States with 8,734 pieces of space junk, followed by China (4,688 pieces), France (994), and India (517). The U.K. only has one piece of junk in orbit. It previously had four, but they have since decayed. The researchers also found that the amount of junk floating in space has more than doubled over the past couple of years.

“From our analysis, this new data shows that there is, in fact, more space junk than before, totaling an increase over two years of 448 pieces from the top five countries alone,” a spokesperson for RS Components told Digital Trends. “Russia’s space junk contribution is at an overwhelmingly high amount: Almost 10,000 more pieces than that of China and over 6,000 more pieces than that of the U.S. Interestingly, over the two years from 2018 to now, India has seen the biggest increase with 124 more pieces of debris orbiting the Earth. … It is important that we are making the public aware of the scale of the increase.”

Although some space junk loses altitude and burns up in the atmosphere, for the most part, it remains in orbit with no way to remove it. A number of possible solutions to the problem of space debris have been put forward, from gecko-inspired space grippers to the proposal of a “just-in-time” collision avoidance system involving talcum powder and lasers. There are also ground-based monitoring systems that scour the skies and warn satellite operators of impending collisions involving space junk.

For now, though, the issue will only become more pressing as more satellites are launched into space while existing space debris continue to proliferate as orbiting pieces collide and multiply. It’s for this reason that some experts want more stringent laws put in place to deal with this dilemma. More details about this space junk research (including an infographic) can be seen on RS Components’ website.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Watch SpaceX fire Starship’s Raptor engines ahead of 4th test flight
The Starship spacecraft during an engine test.

SpaceX performed a full-duration static fire of all six Raptor engines on its Starship spacecraft on Monday, and shared a video of the dramatic test on social media.

Read more
Crewed Soyuz launch to space station suffers rare late abort
The Soyuz rocket and MS-25 spacecraft on the launchpad.

The Soyuz rocket and MS-25 spacecraft on the launchpad. NASA/Bill Ingalls / NASA/Bill Ingalls

The latest launch of Russia’s usually reliable Soyuz rocket was called off just seconds before liftoff on Thursday, with the three crewmembers -- including one NASA astronaut -- now waiting for their next opportunity to fly to the International Space Station (ISS).

Read more
SpaceX already has a date in mind for next Starship launch
spacex cinematic video previews starship test

SpaceX launched the mighty Starship for the first time in April last year, but it took a full seven months before it became airborne again.

Following the second test flight in November, SpaceX managed to get the Starship off the launchpad again just four months later in a spectacular flight that took place last week.

Read more