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The Kessler effect, also known as Kessler syndrome

The Kessler effect, also known as Kessler syndrome, is a situation where objects in low earth orbit (LEO) all destroy each other in a cascade effect of destruction and mayhem. The idea was proposed by NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978. In space, even a tiny object the size of a pebble can create massive damage because it is moving so fast. So Kessler suggested that if there are enough satellites, spacecraft, and other objects in LEO, then even one small projectile could destroy all of them. Suppose a small space rock hits a satellite. That satellite gets destroyed, creating a bunch of debris. The debris then flies outward and hits other satellites, causing more debris, which again destroys yet more spacecraft, and so on. The result is a cascade effect of debris that destroys all of the spacecraft. The result would not be an impassable barrier of debris. Other spacecraft could launch through the debris field and continue out into space, and other spacecraft in other orbital levels like medium earth orbit would be fine. But the debris field would pose enough of a risk to spacecraft in LEO that it would make it infeasible to put new spacecraft into that orbital level. The Kessler effect has interesting implications in regards to national security and the possible future of war in space. Even if a government had the technology to shoot down a spacecraft, they would have to think very hard about using that capability, because the destruction could cause a Kessler syndrome that destroys far more than intended, perhaps even their own spacecraft.

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