The volume of abandoned rockets, shattered satellites and missile shrapnel in the Earth’s orbit is reaching a “tipping point” and is now threatening the $250 billion (£174bn) space services industry, scientists said.
A single collision between two satellites or large pieces of “space junk” could send thousands of pieces of debris spinning into orbit, each capable of destroying further satellites.
Global positioning systems, international phone connections, television signals and weather forecasts are among the services which are at risk of crashing to a halt.
This “chain reaction” could leave some orbits so cluttered with debris that they become unusable for commercial or military satellites, the US Defense Department’s interim Space Posture Review warned last year.
There are also fears that large pieces of debris could threaten the lives of astronauts in space shuttles or at the International Space Station.