According to Gravity, space debris causes untold damage to spacecraft—and space agencies do indeed spend a lot of time testing materials they put into orbit. This image shows what happens when a sand grain-sized piece of aluminium oxide strikes aluminium sheet at hypervelocity. Ouch.
At high speeds, even a small mass can cause untold damage. So researchers at the European Space Agency test materials, like this sheet aluminium, by firing samples towards them at extremely high speeds. Satellites normally get bombard with space debris and meteoroids at speeds of over 21,600 mph. Tests in ESA labs mimic those collisions by firing very small projectiles at hypervelocity, which are speeds over 6,700 mph. For some context, the main hole in the image is 28x12 millimetres across. Eek. [ESA]
Image by ESA