As our increasingly interconnected digital societies rely more heavily on space-based infrastructure, satellites have become crucial for the operation of a multitude of technological systems. According to NASA, US Department of Defense sensors are also tracking at least 27,000 of the estimated hundred million pieces of space junk orbiting the near-Earth environment. This pollution is the result of decades of unsustainable practices in space exploration and its exploitation. There are also countless orbital objects that are too small to be tracked. Yet, in the words of Jérôme Barbier, Head of Outer Space, at Paris Peace Forum, ‘Protecting Earth’s orbital environment is key to ensure every- one’s ability to benefit from outer space. Space debris have no nationality, nor rationality’.
How can we get a total understanding of this web of satellites orbiting the Earth? Dark Cloud of Debris is a visualization of tens of thousands of satellites and human debris. Conceived by Theodore Kruczek, it shows the evolution of this pollution over time, from 1959 to the present. Each type of object appears as a different colour: space satellites, debris, and rocket body parts. Aimed at a wide public, this visualization enables anyone to learn about orbital mechanics as well as the burgeoning realm of satellite operations.