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Space: the final junkyard

Space is now so polluted that satellites are being damaged and astronauts are at risk. Millions of pieces of junk are orbiting Earth. Some are old rockets and fuel tanks; others are tiny bits of metal and fragments from explosions. Travelling at 20,000 mph, even the smallest is a fearsomely hazardous projectile.

The windshield of a Shuttle has been cracked by a fleck of paint, and a French spy satellite was put out of action, hit by a piece of debris from an Ariane rocket. There have been many more mysterious break ups which scientists believe to have been caused by collisions with junk. Powerful radar stations now keep constant watch on orbiting junk to ensure it does not threaten astronauts in the new International Space Station.

Junk is also falling back to Earth. In 1996 a Russian satellite loaded with plutonium crashed in South America. In 1997 a woman in Oklahoma was hit by a piece of debris from an American rocket falling back into Earth’s atmosphere.

Scientists now fear a "cascade" when pieces of colliding junk break into thousands of fragments, which then smash into other orbiting objects, creating clouds of metal particles around Earth like the rings of Saturn.

This one hour documentary includes startling archive and graphics as well as interviews with leading scientists and the only person in the world who has ever been hit by a piece of falling space junk.



Director: Patrick Fleming
Producer/writer: Robert Eagle
Camera: Mike Coles
Editor: Perry Shaffer

Distribution: Channel 4 International: www.c4i.tv