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Sunrise seen from the International Space Station. Photo: NASA

NASA needs to do more to understand the risks posed to spacecraft by space junk and find new ways to mitigate the threat, according to a report last week from the Office of Inspector General.

Why it matters: Some see space junk as an environmental crisis in orbit. Millions of pieces of space debris speed around Earth at more than 17,000 mph, putting spacecraft and sometimes people in harm’s way.

Driving the news: The new OIG report suggests that while NASA has done a good job of deorbiting its own spacecraft and rocket bodies, many other nations haven't been as proactive, launching spacecraft and rockets that stay in orbit longer than the 25 years recommended.

  • Now experts warn the space agency will need to both mitigate the junk already in space and prevent future junk from being created to keep spacecraft safe in the future.
  • "Despite presidential and congressional directives to NASA over the past decade to develop active debris removal technologies, the Agency has made little to no progress on such efforts," the OIG wrote.
  • The OIG also recommended NASA should develop a better means of tracking and understanding the nature of space junk in orbit to more effectively protect its spacecraft.

The catch: Nations and private companies are working to find ways to effectively clean up space, but those technologies are still early in development.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 2, 2021 - Science

Billionaire battles are shaping our future in space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Amazon and SpaceX's scuffle about satellites shows how competitions between companies today are shaping humanity's future in space.

Why it matters: Billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are influencing the push for humans to settle the solar system — from a city on Mars to large space stations in orbit.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 1, 2021 - Science

SpaceX flight will be the first all-civilian mission to space

A crewed SpaceX rocket streaks to orbit. Photo: SpaceX

Billionaire Jared Isaacman has effectively chartered a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule for the first all-civilian mission to orbit, expected to launch later this year.

Why it matters: The mission is ringing in a new era of commercial spaceflight, one where those with the means can make their orbital dreams a reality without involving government spacecraft.

Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week's airstrike against facilities tied to Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.