The European Space Agency (ESA) called on Tuesday for increased international co-operation to head off the threat posed to its network of satellites by debris flying around space.

“No country can stand or act alone,” ESA chief Jan Woerner told an international conference in the western German city of Darmstadt.

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“It’s clear to us that the issue of space debris is serious,” he said at the opening of the four-day conference, which has been held every four years since 1993.

About 400 engineers, scientists and managers are to join representatives of universities as well as all major space travel nations at the conference, which is being held at ESA’s Satellite Control Centre.

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In addition to large pieces of debris that have been flung off satellites or remnants of rockets, ESA officials believe that there are about 750,000 objects between one and 10 cm in diameter flying around in space.

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Many of the objects are travelling at an enormous pace, which means that they can have the potential explosive force of a hand grenade on impact, ESA says.