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.
PopSci reported almost a month ago that the European Space Agency had lost contact with its flagship Earth-observing satellite. Today, we must relay with heavy hearts that Envisat has been declared dead on orbit. The ESA will suspend recovery efforts today, the agency has said.
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.
NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) has finally returned home after two decades in orbit, and it couldn’t have crash-landed in a better place: a 500-mile-wide swath of the South Pacific. The falling six-ton satellite--which had been expected to re-enter the atmosphere for a couple of weeks, causing some degree of worry--plunged into a part of the world that is virtually uninhabited, mere minutes after reports said it might come crashing down in North America, NASA officials said yesterday.
NASA is monitoring a piece of debris from a defunct Russian satellite that could make a close approach tomorrow to the International Space Station and space shuttle Atlantis. This sort of thing does happen pretty often, but this space encounter is tinged with a special degree of concern because it's the last time garbage might imperil a shuttle.
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.
By D.M. Levine
Posted 03.07.2011 at 1:56 pm 0 Comments
On February 10, 2009, a U.S. and a Russian satellite collided 500 miles above Siberia, adding at least 2,000 chunks to the roughly 100 million pieces of debris currently orbiting Earth. These scraps of satellites, abandoned rocket parts, jettisoned fuel and flecks of paint travel between 7,000 and 18,000 miles an hour, colliding with increasing frequency, which could lead to a feedback loop known as the Kessler syndrome.
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.
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.