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. LevinePosted 03.07.2011 at 12:56 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.
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.
It's getting to be real crowded up there. Today, Russian aerospace authorities had to shift the orbit of the International Space Station to get it out of the way of a piece of hurtling debris.
A similar maneuver was planned just a couple of months ago when a piece of China's Feng Yun satellite threatened the station. This time, the junk is American, a piece of UARS.
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.
A massive collection of spacecraft parts, dead satellites, and spent rocket stages circle high above the Earth in a sort of “floating landfill.” According to recent estimates, about 4 million pounds of space junk currently orbit the Earth, including some 20,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 centimeters.
DARPA has a thing for butterfly tech. Last week it was sensors based on butterfly wings. This week, it's a space junk capturing vehicle armed with 200 nets that gathers space garbage, much as a lepidopterist would net butterflies for a specimen collection. The technology was presented on Friday at the annual Space Elevator conference.