How would a spaceship traveling through interplanetary space, let's say to Mars, avoid all the space debris or there isn't any interplanetary space debris at all, is it only orbital debris around the earth?

  • $\begingroup$ #SpaceIsBig The missions through the astroid belt don't even both trying to avoid them $\endgroup$
    – Adam Wuerl
    Dec 14, 2015 at 19:20

1 Answer 1


Space is in general an empty place, and debris is only a problem in Earth orbit. Even there, the amount of debris is only considerable in popular orbits like GEO. The reason is in part that there have only been a two digit number of probes sent away from Earth's influence, compared to the thousands of satellites currently orbiting Earth.

The other part of the reason is the vast size of interplanetary space. Near Earth space is measured in thousands of kilometres, interplanetary space in millions. The volume of a cube with sides a thousand times longer is a billion times as big. The debris is therefore so scattered that we do not actually have to pay attention to it.

However, not all small objects out there are man-made, a lot of them are natural rocks and gravel. They are too small to observe from Earth.

To answer your question about how to avoid them, you really can't. We have no way of detecting them, and spacecraft in interplanetary space are mostly on a predetermined course just coasting without changing their orbit.
Shielding is an option though, mostly protecting from very small particles. To shield from larger ones, you would need a heavier shield, eating into your spacecraft mass budget. A bit more about micro meteorite shielding can be found here.
Universe today has some excellent visualisations of the orbital debris problem.
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Damage on shuttle after micrometeorite impact

  • $\begingroup$ So what if a spaceship traveling to mars at a very high speed hits a debree, wouldn't it really damage the craft, I know it's a really slim chance, but still a risk. Do we have something to prevent it, or is this something that we shouldn't be worrying about. $\endgroup$
    – Giancarlo
    Dec 13, 2015 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Giancarlo We should not worry about it, because we can't really do much. Debris are likely to hit at several km/s and at that is enough for even small (cm-size) objects to make considerable damage. Security precautions are more of the type of minimizing the consequences of the damage provided. This includes making the spacecraft able to operate with limited power, backup computer systems, and (if manned) enough air to re-pressurize the vessel. $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2015 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ There are various projects that aim at shielding the ship from micrometeorites - e.g. with a water layer, which would be quite good at stopping them. Bigger ones can be detected and "dodging" them is entirely doable. The problem is any shield against the micrometeorites is bound to be heavy. this was made by a microscopic fleck of paint. This is the kind of energies we're dealing with. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Dec 14, 2015 at 8:36

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