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.
The Electrodynamic Debris Eliminator, or EDDE, is the brainchild of engineers at Star Inc. and ostensibly the DARPA backers that are funding its development. In practice, EDDE would zip around low earth orbit snaring bits of space garbage in its many nets where they cannot be a menace to other orbiting spacecraft. Star's CEO estimates that over seven years, 12 EDDE craft could clean up all 2,465 objects over 4.5 pounds that are currently being tracked through LEO.
Once EDDE has a piece of space junk cornered, it can either hurl it into the South Pacific where it has little chance of doing any harm, or put it on a trajectory to burn up during re-entry. Or, Star insists, the pieces of junk could be recycled right there in space to create raw materials for the construction of future orbiting space stations or satellites.
It sounds pretty out there, but Star has already begun testing the tech and should conduct a test flight in 2013. If that succeeds, EDDEs could begin a full cleanup operation in LEO by 2017.
Hurling it into the ocean sounds like my least favorite option. Hopefully they get the recycling thing down instead.
Creating a full recycling center on the device to recycle all junk may make the project to ambitious to ever get started.
Throwing stuff into ocean may be the best short terms solution to get things started as long as care is taken as to what exactly being thrown into ocean. Metal objects i would believe wouldn't harm anything, and its' been shown that ships and other objects made out of metal can even benefit the ocean by creating homes for certain creatures, and it does eventually break down, unlike plastics and other chemicals.
Maybe something half-way would be better, stripping junk of things that we do not want thrown in ocean, like plastics, etc. and tossing metal structure like objects in ocean, non-disposable objects then could be somehow grouped together into a ball of junk in a large net like contraption and out fitted with a giant parachute and guided down to some desert somewhere to be retrieved for recycling down on the planet...
They could also just toss it at the moon for future collection and recycling.
"Daddy, why does the moon sparkle?" :)
Today's magic is tomorrow's technology.
Recycling in orbit is the only soultion I would even consider... it makes the most sense... polluting the ocean with so many different materials used to build all this stuff with is out of the question. Putting it on a trajectory to burn up is just a waste cuz it costs so much to get this stuff up there to begin with... and there is my point... if we can recycle in space then the majority of the cost for relaunching the recycled debris back into orbit as another vehicle is eliminated. It's already up there... just find a way to store it safely up there for now if recycling is not feasible yet...
But our orbiting ring of deadly debris is our protective layer against alien invasion! "The garbage, it's cutting the enemy fleet to shreds! My god it's beautiful!"
Anyway, I agree with the recyclers, the stuff's already up there, why waste money launching raw materials?
What A Good Idea!
Yea, It could be a really profitable enterprise. They could pay by the pound!!!
WE could drift it further into orbit so that it wont hurt anything and when we need it we got it
Or perhaps bundle it up and "shrink wrap" it for later use. Same orbit perhaps but it would reduce the number of separate items floating around.
I have been thinking about how we could clear out the space junk for a long time and I am glad DARPA is moving on this problem with what appears to be an elegant solution. Regarding how to dispose of the junk, letting objects burn up in the atmosphere and, for the larger objects, crash into the ocean seems to be by far the easiest and most practical way to rapidly clear low earth orbit. We don't have the infrastructure in space to recycle space junk. Perhaps one day, but not today.
What if we made a ring like Saturn's ring, would be very beautiful to be honest.
How do you make a net strong enough to capture debris while traveling at a low orbit velocity? I mean seriously, this device is traveling at more then 20,000 mph and the debris could be traveling at speed in the opposite direction.... that just seems like a lot of kinetic energy to contain.... Is this some derivative of carbon nano tubes or something? How do you make it big and light enough? I need to look into this more...
Good idea in concept though for sure. Reminds me of a similar idea I had awhile ago...
Random question... Do low-temperature superconducting materials work in the vacuum of space? If so I have the perfect way to develop radiation shielding for spacecraft ^.^
I have an idea... dust sprayed into space in an opposite direction to the orbiting debris. The dust slows the debris over time and it falls out of orbit.
Gathering the junk up in one spot would slow the process badly, probably a factor of four or five, because plane changes are much slower than lowering orbits. Deorbiting into the ocean is a safety measure, to prevent the small fraction not vaporized from falling on land where people and property could get hit.
The junk is, well, junk- most of it has been in space for decades, subject to radiation exposure and micrometeorite impacts. The best you could do with it is melt some parts down, but it would be a mishmash of everything from steel and phenolic solid motor cases to titanium gas bottles and aluminum propellant tanks. Some of the junk items still have pressure in them, and would be a menace to both the EDDE devices and any point you tried to store them. (Some have blown up from the residual propellants corroding the walls.) Far better to let them burn up on atmosphere entry.
The gossamer capture nets would be dumped along with the pieces of debris- this would keep the mechanical complexity as low as possible.
The nets don't have to be very strong because the tether matches course with the junk before capture- the encounter velocity is only a few meters per second.
As for ocean pollution, the total mass to be removed is about 2100 tons- less than a millionth of the varied trash put into the environment every year- and most of THAT would be reduced to dust in the upper atmosphere.
Bear in mind that meteors deliver somewhere around 150,000 tons/year to the earth (Ceplecha, 1996) so adding 300 tons/year to that is inconsequential.
Great idea but holy shit do not dump this in the ocean! Might as well keep it in space...
I'm not sure how they are financing this project... surely millions must be invested yet it's hard to see anyone kind enough in really investing so much without a good financial gain. Must it seems like a great idea so hopefully it works out.
@ natz: Any technology that incorporates the use of a satellite would jump right on this project as it's a great security investment.
Yikes... the ocean seems like the perfect place to drop it. How do you think reefs are made? Also, you can't just "toss it at the moon." At just a few hundred to a few thousands miles above Earth you're still very deep in a gravity well. You would have to have a very strong pitching arm.
Bah! They've already made recyclers back in the 1950's and made hover tanks and MAC cannons! They just gotta send them back and pick up this crap!
Am I the only one who thought of Battlezone upon thinking "Recyclers in Space"?
Recylcling space trash has nothing to do with polution, but with cost. There is not enough man made material in space to equal one day's take at any of the thousands of container dumps in the US alone.
The only reason for the ocean over the burn up is safty and ease (angling towards the ocean is easier than a garunteed burn-up re-entry).
However, look into the fuel cost PER POUND to send crap into space. If useful in any way up there, why send it back down here?
Of course, throwing it at the moon would seem to make sense - as that would be a good place to put a recycler/fabricator. The only problem is that this is low earth orbit we are talking about. It would still take a load of energy to send something to the moon - at least with any chance of actually hitting the thing (no small feat for an unpiloted piece of trash hurled so far).
However, an international trust that fined contries for their space debris could easily fund a simple clean up run - and encourage improved conduct in space going forward.
They could monetize the project and get sponsors for a heck of a fireworks display!
Yeah along with everything else!
Can we make a cult net and sweep up all the cultists? Toss them out into space?
So... Instead of maybe moving our garbage INTO space, we would much rather pull it OUT of space? And hurling it into the ocean? Have we forgotten that there are animals, ships, islands, etc. in the ocean? We can't just be throwing large chunks of material from space into our earth.
Fining, really? You really think we should fine countries to clean up the space debris? Instead of taking other countries' money to fund this "space cleanup", why don't we just ask them to help? And who are we ( or who is the UN, or whoever would oversee this "treaty" ) to pretend like they own outer space? Seems like it would piss alot of people off for no reason.
We need to stop thinking we can police everything. Space is space. It belongs to no one and it should stay that way.
But I guess it is all about the Money, Money, Money! What would our lives be worth without money???
Just leave the crap there. The benefits hardly hold a candle to the amount of things that could go wrong.
has this been simulated on a computer?
Simply cut each piece into smaller pieces with a laser or some other method. The smaller chunks will then definitely vaporize in re-entry.
At about $10,000 per pound to launch satellites, it would be very profitable to recycle in space. In fact, it would be even better to "pirate" any old satellites that are just hanging around....