Risk from Space Rubbish Remains an Unknown Unknown

By Michael Simpson

Dr. Michael K. Simpson is the Executive Director of Secure World Foundation. Dr. Simpson joined SWF as the Senior Program Officer in September 2011 following seven and a half years as President of the International Space University (ISU). Dr. Simpson holds a post as Professor of Space Policy and International Law at ISU. He is a member of the International Academy of Astronautics and the International Institute of Space Law and is a Senior Fellow of the International Institute of Space Commerce. After 23 years of service, Dr. Simpson retired from the Naval Reserve in 1993 with the rank of Commander.

In the 50-odd years since Sputnik, the world has come to rely heavily on space. Roughly 1,200 satellites in orbit link global telecommunications networks, provide real-time positioning to our phones, and monitor the Earth for climate events and natural disasters. Space assets are also a critical enabler for the U.S. military. However, the increasingly heavy use of space has led to the creation of clouds of space debris numbering in the hundreds of thousands, which could deeply impact humanity’s ability to use space. The Cipher Brief’s Fritz Lodge spoke with Director of the Secure World Foundation, Dr. Michael K. Simpson, to learn more about the danger space debris poses, and how to clean up our orbits. 

The Cipher Brief: What is space debris and can you outline the threat that it poses to satellites in orbit?

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