There are more than 160 million pieces of ‘space junk’ floating in Earth’s orbit, with the number continuing to rise. Satellites are constantly being put into orbit, clogging up more and more space in the process.

Space junk, which can include debris from defunct satellites and pieces of rockets, is proving to be an increasingly prominent problem, and the UK’s business secretary has warned their ever-increasing presence puts the UK’s satellite missions in jeopardy.

Furthermore, with pieces of space junk travelling at average speeds of 16,777 mph (27,000kmh), even the smallest pieces of debris, including chips of paint, could prove extremely problematic.

UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma also warned it could pose a threat to humans on board the ISS.

Mr Sharma wrote for The Telegraph: “Millions of pieces of space junk orbiting the Earth present a significant threat to UK satellite systems, which provide the vital services that we all take for granted – from mobile communications to weather forecasting.

“If we don’t take action now, low-Earth orbit could become too perilous for satellites or even humans on the International Space Station.”

The world’s top space directors have previously expressed a desire to clean up Earth’s orbit.

Not only does space junk pose a threat to technologies which rely on satellites, such as mobile phones, GPS, weather and television, but it can lead to something known as ‘Kessler syndrome’.

Kessler syndrome was first proposed in 1978 by NASA scientists Donald Kessler.

He proposed a scenario in which Earth’s orbit could become so congested that one satellite bumping into another could cause a cascading affect where more and more satellites are wiped out in a domino effect.

Graham Turnock, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said the UK should be at the forefront of tackling the space junk issue.

He said: “People probably do not realise just how cluttered space is.

“You would never let a car drive down a motorway full of broken glass and wreckage, and yet this is what satellites and the Space Station have to navigate every day in their orbital lanes.

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“In this new age of space megaconstellations the UK has an unmissable opportunity to lead the way in monitoring and tackling this space junk.”

The European Space Agency has plans to launch the ClearSpace-1 project into orbit in 2025, where it will collect debris using a “tow truck”, where it will collect debris and drag it into Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up.

ESA Director General Jan Wörner has previously reiterated the need to clean up Earth’s orbit, saying: “Imagine how dangerous sailing the high seas would be if all the ships ever lost in history were still drifting on top of the water.

“That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue. ESA’s Member States have given their strong support to this new mission, which also points the way forward to essential new commercial services in the future.”

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