Scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory, Old Dominion University, and the University of Waterloo have discovered that climate changes occurring on Earth are creating a dangerous situation for satellites floating around our planet. According to the NRL, as the temperature increases on Earth, the resulting CO2 that reaches the upper atmosphere is cooling and contracting the thermosphere (about 50 miles above the surface), decreasing drag at that elevation. As the process occurs, the rate in which debris burns up in the atmosphere is slowed and their trajectory through space have an increased likelihood of being altered, heightening the chance of collision. The findings are the result of analyzing eight years of CO2 readings made by the Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment, a satellite that measures atmospheric gases.
These conditions further stress the importance of cleaning up the leftover debris orbiting Earth, a task already being undertaken by some groups. DARPA, for example, hopes to do so with the Phoenix Program, which intends to harvest unused satellites, while the Swiss Space Center at EPFL plans to launch a series of "janitor satellites" that will carry debris back into the atmosphere to be burned upon reentry.