10 breakups account for 1/3 of cataloged space debris

Some 5,000 space missions have been conducted worldwide since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957.

Of the 17,400 cataloged objects still in orbit — including intact spacecraft and debris as small as a baseball — most are from the more than 200 so-called fragmentation events (ranging from accidental explosions to intentional collisions) over the last 60 years. Ten breakups produced a third of all cataloged debris still in orbit as of January, according to NASA’s April issue of Orbital Debris Quarterly News.

Below are the 10 biggest breakups of all time, plus several smaller fragmentation events that produced especially stubborn debris that’s been lingering in orbit for decades.