Aerospace giant Boeing has developed a novel means of clearing space junk from low Earth orbit: A cloud of ballistic gas. Most space junk-clearing schemes involve launching something up there to physically de-orbit debris, but this means launching rocket stages into orbit that then become more orbital debris. Boeing’s solution: Launch a rocket full of cryogenic inert gas right to the very edge of space, then forcibly eject tons of vaporized gas further upward into an orbiting debris cluster.
The big rockets of our day get all of the fanfare during a launch, but often they're accompanied by tiny stowaways known as CubeSats, which hitch a ride and drop into orbit. They're convenient and able to get us into space cheaply, roughly the size of a Rubik's Cube and weigh only three pounds.
The growing space junk problem in various orbits around the Earth gets plenty of ink these days, particularly when the ISS has to fire its thrusters to dodge a piece of a satellite, or when a defunct satellite smashes into a perfectly good, multimillion dollar piece of orbital communications hardware.
Another week, another scheme to clean up our bourgeoning space debris problem. This one, like many before it, calls for a powerful ground-based laser to remove orbital debris from low earth orbit. Using high-powered laser pulses fired from the ground, the system would create a small plasma jet emanating from the piece of junk itself, essentially turning each piece of debris into its own laser-powered rocket that would remove itself from orbit.
Our growing space junk problem could become an orbiting spare satellite parts sale if DARPA has its way. The DoD’s research arm has launched a new program, appropriately titled Phoenix, to create new satellites from the decommissioned and dead satellites currently sitting idle in geosynchronous orbit some 22,000 miles above the Earth.
When it comes to solving the growing space junk problem, solutions range from catching it in giant nets to blasting it from orbit with lasers--and these are DARPA’s and NASA’s best plans, respectively. By contrast, the Naval Research Laboratory has a scheme that seems much more feasible, though fraught with negative consequences: using a cloud of tungsten dust to create atmospheric drag at orbital altitudes, deorbiting the thousands of pieces of tiny space junk whirling about the heavens.
Space debris could be nudged out of the way using a moderately sized Earth-based laser, a team of NASA researchers suggests in a new paper. The laser wouldn’t blast the debris to smithereens, but combined with a ground-based telescope, it could be used to move space junk into a different orbit so it would not collide with other debris or important spacecraft.
The proliferation of space debris surrounding our planet isn't just a theoretical problem--flying extraterrestrial garbage can cause damage to satellites, manned and unmanned space missions, and even the International Space Station.
The burgeoning problem of space debris and the threat it presents to satellites, manned space mission, and occasionally the International Space Station is no secret to those following the headlines coming out of low Earth orbit. But though the threat is real, the problem receives little public visibility.
Hare-brained schemes for cleaning up space debris have been batted around for some time, but Russia has finally put some money down on a real project. Russia’s space corporation, Energia, is going to invest $2 billion to build a space pod to fly around and knock the junk out of orbit and out of our way.
China has never been particularly apologetic about its contribution to the looming threat of space debris, but authorities might finally have to offer up some kind of conciliatory “sorry we nearly bombed your village with huge chunks of used rocket.” Last night residents of two separate villages in Jiangxi, China, awoke to very large pieces of the lunar probe Chang’e II’s launch rocket falling back to Earth around them.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.