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UN, European Agencies Launch Plan to Clean Up Space

Space debris
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UN, European Agencies Launch Plan to Clean Up Space
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European and United Nations agencies are developing a plan for worldwide action on dealing with waste in outer space, commonly called space junk. The agencies say space junk orbiting the earth must be cleaned up to make room for new satellites launched by private companies and other groups.

Representatives from the European Space Agency and the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) met in Vienna, Austria earlier this month to discuss the issue.

Space junk has been a concern since the time of the Space Race between the United States and the former Soviet Union during the 1950s and 60s. Currently, several countries including China and India have developed the ability to shoot down satellites, and the situation has gotten worse.

Space junk can be anything from dead satellites, to lost pieces of equipment, to small pieces of paint. Jan Woerner is head of the European Space Agency, or ESA. He says that the amount of space junk is so large that the ESA “very frequently” has to change its satellites’ course to avoid larger objects.

He added that “... space is something like a road, like a street. It’s infrastructure and we have to make it clean.”

Together, ESA and UNOOSA have launched a campaign to bring attention to the problem of space junk.

Private companies like Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, are seeking to launch thousands of new satellites. The space agencies hope to get countries to agree on action.

Simonetta Di Pippo is head of UNOOSA. She said, “You have really more and more countries, more and more private-sector entities entering into the field.”

Woerner said he will meet with representatives from the ESA’s 22 member states in November. He plans to ask them to support an effort in which his agency would pay one company to bring down one of its old satellites safely. Woerner added that he hopes it will lead to more.

He said the action needed is similar to that on climate change.

“We have to get rid of it. And therefore awareness is number 1, and then immediately when we get people also being aware…then we can act,” he said.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English from a report by the Reuters news service. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

frequently –adv. happening often

infrastructure –n. the basic equipment and structures such as roads and bridges that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly

sector –n. an area of an economy; a part of an economy that includes certain kinds of jobs

entities –n. something that exists by itself : something that is separate from other things

awareness –n. the knowledge and understanding of what is happening in the world or around you