Debris plot by NASA. A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95% of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item. The orbital debris dots are scaled according to the image size of the graphic to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth. Public domain image by NASA.

Debris plot by NASA. A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95% of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item. The orbital debris dots are scaled according to the image size of the graphic to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth. Public domain image by NASA.

Part of this attention stems from the interest in an complicated type of waste (radioactive, sometimes tiny, heterogenous) in an extreme environment. But most attention comes from practical needs: orbital debris is becoming more numerous and can damage space instruments, the satellites  and other infrastructure critical for communication, transportation, energy, and military networks. It can also come down to earth and pose a threat to people, property, and ecosystems.

This bibliography is a primer of the main texts on space trash from a variety of points of view, types of institutions, and disciplinary perspectives. If there are others that you think should be added, please let us know in the comment section.

 

Baiocchi, Dave and William Welser. 2010. Confronting Space Debris: Strategies and Warnings from Comparable Examples Including Deepwater Horizon, Rand Corporation.

Gorman, Alice Claire. 2009. “The Gravity of Archaeology.” Archaeologies-Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 5 (2): 344–59.

———. 2014. “The Anthropocene in the Solar System.” Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 1 (1): 87–91.

———. 2015. “Robot Avatars: The Material Culture of Human Activity in Earth Orbit.” In Archaeology and Heritage of the Human Movement into Space, edited by Beth Laura O’Leary and P. J. Capelotti, 29–47. Space and Society. Springer International Publishing. .

Kessler, Donald J., and Burton G. Cour-Palais. 1978. “Collision Frequency of Artificial Satellites: The Creation of a Debris Belt.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics 83 (A6): 2637–46.

Kessler, Donald J., Nicholas L. Johnson, J.-C. Liou, and Mark Matney. 2010. “The Kessler Syndrome: Implications to Future Space Operations.” Breckenridge, CO.

Launius, Roger D. 2010. “Writing the History of Space’s Extreme Environment.” Environmental History: 526–32.

National Research Council (U.S.). 1995. Orbital Debris: A Technical Assessment. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press.

National Research Council (U.S>). 2011.  Limiting Future Collision Risk to Spacecraft: An Assessment of NASA’s Meteoroid and Orbital Debris Programs. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Olson, Valerie A. 2013. “NEOecology: The Solar System’s Emerging Environmental History and Politics,” in New Natures: Joining Environmental History with Science and Technology Studies, ed. Dolly Jørgensen, Finn Arne Jørgensen, and Sara B Pritchard. Pittsburgh, PA.:University of Pittsburgh Press: 195–211.

Parks, L. 2012. “When Satellites Fall: On the Trails of Cosmos 954 and USA193.” In Down to Earth: Satellite Technologies, Industries, and Cultures, 221–37.

Portree, Davis S. F. and Joseph P. Loftus. 1999. “Orbital Debris: A Chronology,” NASA STI/Recon Technical Report N 99.

Rand, L.R. 2014. “Gravity, the Sequel: Why the Real Story Would Be on the Ground”, The Atlantic.

Rand, L.R, and Jonathan McDowell. 2014. “Space junk: the problem of orbiting trash.” Radio Times.

Rathje, William L. 1999. “Achaeology of Space Garbage.” Discovering Archaeology 1 (5): 108–11.

Reynolds, Robert C. and Andrew E. Potter. 1989. Orbital Debris Research at NASA Johnson Space Center, 1986-1988. NASA.

More resources: Orbital Debris Program Office website
The bibliography above is created in consultation with two scholars of orbital debris: Lisa Ruth Rand and Josh Lepawsky. Thank you for your help.
The main propellant tank of the second stage of a Delta 2 launch vehicle landed near Georgetown, Texas, on January 22, 1997. This approximately 250-kg tank is primarily a stainless steel structure and survived reentry relatively intact. Photo Credit: NASA. From "The Greening of Orbital Debris" by Nicholas Johnson, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris at Johnson Space Center.

The main propellant tank of the second stage of a Delta 2 launch vehicle landed near Georgetown, Texas, on January 22, 1997. This approximately 250-kg tank is primarily a stainless steel structure and survived reentry relatively intact.
Photo Credit: NASA. From “The Greening of Orbital Debris” by Nicholas Johnson, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris at Johnson Space Center.