The amount of debris in space has almost reached crisis proportions, the Russian Aviation and Space Agency's Centre for Observations has warned. Nations involved in the space industry will have to use scarce funding to control the problem, says the agency.

The centre says it will take 100 years to reduce the volume of space debris in Earth orbit by half, even if, simultaneously, the current growth is halted immediately, the number of rocket stage explosions and stages left in orbit are heavily reduced, and used equipment is returned to Earth.

At the same time, on the current rate of growth, failure to act will see the volume of space debris in orbit increase two to three times by the next century.

The scale of the problem was highlighted independently of the Russian report by NASA which revealed that the Space Shuttle Endeavour took hits from 92 pieces of space debris during its recent STS 100 mission to the International Space Station. Thirteen of the hits to the thermal protection system measured 25mm (1in) or larger.

There are about 9,000 trackable objects larger than 100mm in orbit, 110,000 or more objects larger than 1cm and thousands of smaller particles, such as grains of solid propellant exhaust.

The risk of a dangerous collision with debris within a 15 year operational period is 5% to 10%. Most debris is in an area 800-1,500km (500-930miles) altitude, while there is a rise in the number of objects in 36,000km geostationary orbit.

Source: Flight International