Space will be unusable within 20 years unless something is done to clean up the 170 million pieces of debris orbiting the Earth and constantly growing in number.

That's the opinion of Dr Ben Greene, CEO of Space Environment Research Centre (SERC), who today (31 May) hosted an event in Canberra, Australia, to figure out how to clean up Earth's orbital space.

Space junk, which travels faster than 27,000 km/h, is now so ubiquitous that the prospect of it destroying all satellites and space infrastructure is an inevitability if no action is taken, according to Greene.

"There is so much debris that it is colliding with itself and creating more debris," he told Sydney Morning Herald.

"A catastrophic avalanche of collisions which could quickly destroy all orbiting satellites is now possible," he added.

The junk includes broken up pieces of abandoned satellites. These pieces of debris then collide with each other, breaking into further pieces, again and again.

Likewise, seemingly inconspicuous flecks of paint that break away from objects orbiting the earth pose real risks to space infrastructure.

At high speeds they could crack a window on the International Space Station, according to the Australian Academy of Science.

More than 500,000 pieces of space junk are tracked every day by NASA
More than 500,000 pieces of space junk are tracked every day by NASA Wikipedia

"There is now so much debris in space that these objects are colliding with each other. If we don't manage this problem, space will become unusable within 20 years," Greene said.

"We could lose everything – weather information, mobile phone access and aircraft navigation systems," he added.

In 2009, a collision between two satellites over Russia created an extra 1,000 pieces of debris bigger than 10 cm in outer space.

The conference, which runs until Friday, brings together the best minds in space environmental research to brainstorm solutions to the problem.