ISRO Missions and Discoveries

Space Debris: India’s Contribution and Efforts to Tackle the Problem


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Space debries

Mains level: Space updates

Space Debris

Central Idea

  • Space debris, particularly in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), is becoming an increasingly urgent problem due to the rising number of rocket launches and payloads, as well as anti-satellite missile tests and collisions. On March 7, 2023, ISRO successfully carried out a controlled re-entry for the decommissioned Megha-Tropiques-1 (MT1).

Space Debris

ISRO’s controlled re-entry of the decommission

  • Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully carried out a controlled re-entry of the decommissioned Megha-Tropiques-1 (MT1) satellite.
  • MT1 was launched over a decade ago with the objective of studying clouds in the tropical regions of the world.
  • As the satellite had reached the end of its operational life, ISRO brought it down in a controlled manner to reduce space debris in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and limit the potential risks associated with it.

Space debris

  • Space debris refers to any human-made object that is in orbit around the Earth but no longer serves any useful purpose. This can include pieces of spacecraft, rocket stages, and other materials that have been left in space after they have completed their missions or have been discarded.
  • Space debris can vary in size, from small paint flecks and bolts to larger objects like satellites and old rocket bodies.
  • There are currently more than 26,000 objects larger than 10 cm in orbit around the Earth, and many smaller objects that are too small to be tracked.

Space Debris

Surge in Space Debris

  • Increasing number of payloads: The surging number of rocket launches and the increasing number of payloads carried in recent years have made the space junk problem acute, especially after private companies such as SpaceX launched thousands of satellites to provide Internet access.
  • For instance: In 2022, over 2,160 objects were launched into space, about 300 more than 2021 and 900 more than 2020.
  • Data on fragmented debris: The number of satellites in space has crossed the 10,000 mark, including active and defunct ones still orbiting Earth, and the number of fragmentation debris is hurtling towards the 14,000-mark.
  • Smaller debris poses a bigger challenge: While satellite launches are the reason for the rise in rocket bodies orbiting Earth, fragmented debris are mostly a consequence of collisions and Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile tests. The fragmented junk poses a bigger challenge as tracking debris smaller than 10 centimetres is tough.

Countries responsible

  • Russia: Close to 35% originated from the Soviet Union/Russia,
  • US: 31% from the U.S.,
  • China: 29% from China, over 2,700 pieces of debris from a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, marked as the single worst contamination of space in history, are still in orbit.
  • India: India’s contribution is 0.5%.
  • India added to the problem in 2019 by testing an ASAT missile which targeted a live satellite in LEO which resulted in 400 pieces of orbital debris
  • While all the trackable debris from India’s test have re-entered Earth in subsequent years, over 50 pieces from a break-up event of the 4th stage of PSLV-C3 in 2001 are still in orbit.

Space Debris

The cost of avoiding collision

  • High cost: While debris has the potential to cause serious accidents, the cost of manoeuvres to avoid collisions is high.
  • For instance: In 2022, ISS had to conduct two such collision avoidance manoeuvres due to threats posted by debris from Russia’s ASAT test in 2021.
  • Challenges: Such manoeuvres are costly as they require hours of monitoring, fuel for movement, and also result in loss of data as instruments are turned off during such operations.
  • India’s honest efforts:
  • India conducted 21 such corrections for its satellites in 2022, the highest ever for the country.
  • Also, in 2021, ISRO monitored 4,382 events in LEO and 3,148 events in geostationary orbit (GEO) in which debris or other space objects came close to India’s space assets.


  • Small debris orbiting Earth pose threats to space assets, the immediate need is that the countries must acknowledge the responsibility. India’s continues efforts towards controlled decommission set the bar high.

Mains Question

Q. Discuss the challenges posed by increasing space debris and the potential risks associated with it.

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