What is the Kessler Syndrome, and how can it be avoided?

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At present, the majority of all space debris that can cause a catastrophic collision (i.e. that are larger than 10 cm) result from about 200 in-orbit explosions in the course of space history. However, simulations of the long-term evolution of the space debris environment indicate that within a few decades, collision fragments will start to dominate, at least in orbits around 800- to 1400-km altitude. This will be true even if all launch activities are discontinued, an extremely unlikely development. In the most probable scenario, explosion fragments will initially collide with large, intact objects. Then, the resulting collision fragments will start to collide with such objects, and ultimately collision fragments will collide with collision fragments until objects are ground to sub-critical sizes. This self-sustained collisional cascading process is most likely to set in at altitudes with high debris population densities and insufficient cleansing by air drag, i.e. around 900 and ... more
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