Artifacts in space, or space anthropo-archaeology

The purpose of this project is to list all human-made objects that were sent in deep space, way beyond the Earth’s orbit. Most of them are now orbiting celestial bodies such as the Sun, the planets or the moons while some are permanently settled on their surfaces and others are leaving the solar system. The Earth’s artificial satellites are not listed here, except those that were part of an interplanetary mission.

As of October 2021, over 4,500 objects have been identified, ranging from large probes to small pins and including spent injection stages, rovers, heat shields, parachutes, dust caps, weights, bolts, lanyards, hand tools, foam blocks, sample bags, etc.

All these objects are witnesses of human activity in space and are as valuable as archeological items dug several feet underneath us. Like Egyptian mummies on Earth, it is important that we protect them for both their historical and scientific value as space becomes more accessible to private enterprise, exposing them to inadvertent destruction, seizure and illegal trade. Because small items such as cameras, geology tools or detachable parts are more exposed than large rovers or landers, their presence must be emphasized. This catalogue, the most accurate to date, is a first step in preserving them by establishing what’s actually out there and where it is precisely.

However, the exact number of artificial objects in outer space will never be known. It depends upon how objects are numbered (for instance a flag may be counted as one object or split into its elements: cloth, staff, crossbar, etc.); the number of debris resulting from impacts, collisions and spent stages breakups; objects that come from deployments and separation of spacecraft (explosive bolts, lens caps, clamp bands, fairings, shrouds, etc.) and untold or unknown events (classified missions and experiments, private belongings secretly left on the moon by the Apollo astronauts, family items hidden into space hardware by mission staff and technicians, Apollo hardware unofficially returned to Earth as souvenirs by the astronauts, etc.)

Please note that these relics shouldn’t be called ‘space junk’ and because they are far away from the Earth, they are not threatening us, they won’t fall over our heads.

In order to ease reading, the data is split into several tables, each referring to a celestial body (sun, planet, moon, asteroid or comet) and a status (in orbit or on the surface). Additionally, each table displays the artificial objects in chronological order of deployment. The lists are as comprehensive as possible and we’re doing our best to complete them and keep them up to date. Before reading them, please take a look at this page.

Additional information and questions are welcome by mailing us.