GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Did you know that there are more than 7,000 satellites orbiting around Earth as we speak.

Half of these satellites are actively collecting data, where the other half are inactive. And to add to that, satellites are not the only things flying around in earth’s orbit. There’s also a ton of space junk.

Space junk, otherwise known as space debris, is literally any piece of equipment launched into space by humans. This includes machinery as large as dead satellites to broken pieces of screws that have fallen off of rockets launched into earth’s orbit. 

Earth’s orbit is congested with 27,000 pieces of measurable space junk. To add to that, there are actually millions of space debris pieces that are too small to be tracked.

The problem with space debris is it poses a real threat to satellites in orbit and the International Space Station. Although some of this junk sounds too small to create any significant damage, it actually travels at speeds as high as 17,500 MPH, which is equivalent to traveling five miles in one single second. With all that force, a single screw could completely damage the ISS where astronauts dwell during their time in space. 

Last year, the ISS performed three emergency maneuvers to avoid a collision. If any piece of space debris is not recognized by a certain time approaching ISS, real life-threatening damage could occur.

Fortunately, NASA has been researching and evolving spacecraft machinery since the 1970s to help track space junk before it becomes too much of a problem.