While China’s anti-satellite system test created a bit more debris in orbit by reducing China’s Feng Yun 1C polar-orbiting weather satellite to a cloud of debris, it is everyday space operations that contribute the vast majority of the space junk in orbit. “The response to the Chinese test was probably overdone,” says Marco Caceres, senior analyst and director of space studies for Teal Group of Fairfax, Va. “Debris is going into space all the time. Satellites are maneuvered down and burn up in the atmosphere and spread into tiny pieces.
Often where there is a launch, the upper stage of the rocket eventually drops off before placing satellite into orbit. Much of that will burn in the atmosphere, but some will stay in orbit. … The Chinese test was not anything particularly alarming in itself,” he says. “The issue of space debris is alarming, particularly for commercial operators and especially at low-Earth orbit, where a lot of that debris will end up. There is still a chance to be hit, even though it’s a huge area. This has to be addressed as we put up more satellites.”