Report: Space 'junk' threatens services

Feb. 1, 2011 at 7:56 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- The amount of junk orbiting Earth in space is nearing a "tipping point" that may threaten the $250 billion space services industry, a U.S. report says.

A U.S. Defense Department Space Posture Review warned that a single collision between two satellites or large pieces of "space junk" could send thousands of pieces of debris spinning into orbit, each capable of destroying further satellites, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday.

Services such as global positioning systems, international phone connections, television signals and weather forecasting are among the services that could be at risk, the report, sent to Congress last year but not publicly released, said.

The report said space is "increasingly congested and contested" and warned the situation would only get worse.

Bharath Gopalaswamy, an Indian scientist researching space debris at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, estimates there are more than 370,000 pieces of junk, compared with 1,100 satellites, orbiting Earth between 490 and 620 miles high.

"This is almost the tipping point," Gopalaswamy said. "No satellite can be reliably shielded against this kind of destructive force."

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