WASHINGTON – Space junk has made such a mess of Earth’s orbit that experts say we may need to finally think about cleaning it up.

That may mean vacuuming up debris with weird space technology — cosmic versions of nets, magnets and giant umbrellas, according to the chairman of an expert panel that issued a new report on the problem Thursday.

There are 22,000 objects in orbit that are big enough for officials on the ground to track and countless more smaller ones that could damage human-carrying spaceships and valuable satellites. The International Space Station has to move out of the way of debris from time to time.

“We’ve lost control of the environment,” said retired NASA senior scientist Donald Kessler, who headed the National Academy of Sciences report.

Since the space age began 54 years ago, civilization has littered the area just above Earth’s atmosphere with leftover boosters and other parts that come off during launches, as well as old satellites.

When scientists noticed that this could be a problem, they came up with agreements to limit new space junk. Those are intended to make sure what is sent into orbit eventually falls back to Earth and burns up.

But two events in the past four years — a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite weapon test and a 2009 crash-in-orbit of two satellites — put so much new junk in space that everything changed, the report said. The widely criticized Chinese test used a missile to smash an aging weather satellite into 150,000 pieces of debris larger than four-tenths of an inch and 3,118 pieces can be tracked by radar on the ground, the report said.

“Those two single events doubled the amount of fragments in Earth orbit and completely wiped out what we had done in the last 25 years,” Kessler said.