Throwaway launch vehicles, upper stages, and exploding satellites have littered near-Earth space with thousands of pieces of orbital debris, as seen in Figs. 2.8 and 2.9. This refuse is not only wasteful but extremely hazardous to spacecraft operating
in the vicinity. The US Space Surveillance Network routinely tracks all debris larger than 10 cm in size - about 11,000 pieces - to ensure that orbiting satellites and manned vehicles are not endangered. Besides this "large" orbital debris it is estimated that there are more than 100,000 "little" pieces between 1 and 10 cm in size, and millions of particles smaller than this. The fully reusable spaceplanes of the future will not contribute to this diabolical danger, because they will not shed, or shred, pieces of themselves into space as they leave the atmosphere. Near-Earth space is defined as the region within 2,000 km of the surface. This shell is accumulating a large amount of rocket rubbish with each launch. The solution to the debris problem - and it does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out - is to stop adding to it. Natural orbital decay of these particles will eventually clear the near-Earth environment. And spaceplanes, with their self-contained, nonmodular designs, will greatly help to alleviate the problem.2
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