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How many rockets does SpaceX need to throw into orbit before we can leave this dump?

There’s a bunch of space junk orbiting our planet. Will it ever stop us from leaving?

Space junk in the atmosphere
Image: KnowTechie

We all want to escape from something. Some of us want to escape from the dullness of our daily lives, some want to escape from the stress of work, the chaos of children, or the abuse that reality heaps on us daily.

For Elon Musk, founder of a few companies you may have heard of, escape is a more literal consideration. But in order to leave Earth for Mars, SpaceX has to launch a ton more rockets.

This year alone, SpaceX plans on launching 52 missions. That’s one rocket every week. Some of the missions will act as a taxi service to the International Space Station, some of them will likely be tourist runs to the upper atmosphere, but most of them are going to be dumping Starlink satellites into orbit.

Spacex starlink satellite
A rendering of a Starlink satellite (Image: SpaceX)

The plan is to have 30,000 of these things in orbit, capable of blanketing the Earth in internet connectivity.

While bringing internet to the most rural areas of the world seems altruistic, all of this by SpaceX and Starlink is a means to an end. All of this gives Musk a constant excuse to launch rocket after rocket into space, including his new Starship — a fully reusable spacecraft.

Jeff Bezo’s own Blue Origin thinks Starship is immensely complex and high risk but it lost the NASA contract so shrug emoji.

Sure, the competitive nature of space travel between billionaires could be energy (and money) spent helping the Earth instead of trying to vacate it, but that competition will only further humans’ exploration of space, eventually turning Star Trek into reality.

But there comes a point when we’ve got so much stuff orbiting Earth it might be too freaking hard to leave. Think of never shoveling snow, and instead spraying it with a hose every night and suddenly you live in the arctic circle.

Blue origin new shepard space flight launch
Image: Blue Origin

This might seem like an exaggeration but we’ve got a SpaceX rocket about to put a hole in the moon, the aforementioned 30,000 satellites in synchronous orbit with nearly an equal number of pieces of literal space trash, and now SpaceX wants to send 52 rockets and likely more every year into that mess.

All while trying not to crash into space stations. The math involved in launching a spacecraft at this point must take up hundreds of chalkboards, and we’re barely breaking through the atmosphere.

One tiny piece of space debris could derail not only the trajectory of a spacecraft but damage it detrimentally. The International Space Station orbits above most of the space trash, but rockets have to navigate through it. Satellites have to avoid it.

If they don’t (and they often don’t apparently), then they too become space trash, a danger to the next active spacecraft attempting to navigate the space gauntlet. While Blue Origin is literally just an exercise in billionaire dick wagging, SpaceX is actively blanketing the planet with metal and plastic.

A satellite in orbit
Image: NASA

But none of it really matters. Even with the amount of space trash, the number of satellites being launched, there is still plenty of space to launch rockets. Think of it this way — the snow is piled up outside and you feed it with fresh water every night — but you’ve got a flamethrower.

Perhaps that’s the metaphorical reason for the existence of The Boring Company’s flamethrower. The point is, we’re nowhere near the point where denizens of Earth are trapped under some sort of space junk net.

The math involved in calculating the space of, well, space around Earth is probably too complex for most of us to be able to even pretend to slightly understand. Space is infinitely massive, beyond our general comprehension.

There is plenty of it (since space is a vacuum and occupies no mass, that’s a misleading but still accurate-for-the-text statement), to navigate past existing obstacles at speed. So thank a mathematician for the fact that every rocket launch doesn’t end in a nasty space collision.

SpaceX can launch all the damn rockets it wants, eventually carting the rich and privileged to Mars, while those of us abandoned on this dying planet are left with the pleasure of watching thousands of pieces of space junk glitter in the night sky, a constant reminder of those who left us behind.

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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