The founder of a space management firm warned that the worsening condition of space debris in low-Earth orbit could soon prevent agencies from launching space missions. The expert warned that the floating junk in space could also affect the operations of satellites.

According to NASA, Earth is currently surrounded by over 23,000 orbital debris that are over 10 centimeters wide. Those that are around 1 to 10 centimeters in diameter are around 500,000. As for fragments that are over 1 millimeter long, the agency estimated that these exceed 100 million.

Due to the high number of junk floating around Earth, there’s a strong chance that any of these fragments could collide with active satellites that provide technical support for GPS navigation, weather monitoring and mobile signals.

If these kinds of satellites get damaged by the floating debris, it could have serious effects on people, facilities and services that rely on them.

Aside from satellites, the growing problem of orbital debris could soon affect the operations of space agencies. According to Ralph Dinsely, the executive director and founder of the U.K.-based space management firm Northern Space and Security, the amount of junk floating around Earth could prevent missions from leaving the planet.

With serious discussions about leaving Earth to avoid catastrophic cosmic dangers such as asteroid impacts, not being able to leave when needed poses a serious threat to humanity.

“We could have a major space junk event that will mean that we can’t launch beyond low-Earth orbit and we trap ourselves on Earth,” Dinsely told Express. “The simplest event is that it will slow down how we do space exploration. It has been ten years since the last satellite on satellite collision.”

Currently, various space organizations are doing what they can to lessen the number of space junk orbiting Earth. The Surrey Satellite Technology, for instance, launched a mission known as RemoveDEBRIS to analyze and demonstrate various removal technologies and methods to clear Earth’s orbit.

Japan’s space agency is also working on its own plan to clean up space by developing a tether designed to knock fragments out of orbit. The goal of the mission is to send the debris back to Earth, causing them to burn up in the planet’s atmosphere.

An artist's illustration showing the swarm of space debris orbiting Earth. ESA/ID&Sense/ONiRiXEL