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. So a new DARPA-commissioned report proposes taking a page from our terrestrial cleanup efforts, creating a Superfund for space that would both hold entities accountable for their space junk contributions and raise awareness of the problems space debris poses.
For most people – and even for the very companies and institutions causing the problem – all that orbiting detritus isn't visible and has yet to cause a serious calamity or loss of life. It's out of sight and couldn't be further from the mind. But according to think tank RAND, the author of the DARPA report, the same principles used to approach pollution problems on Earth – even visibility problems – can be tweaked to work in space.
A Superfund for space, the report says, could make space polluters pay for the cleanup of low Earth orbit much as polluting industries are held accountable for cleaning up their fouled real estate on Earth. But, like Superfund, it could also support those cleanup efforts with help from the space community. But perhaps more importantly, it could help both governments and private industry reduce their outputs of space debris and cultivate a space culture in which creating debris is considered unacceptable.
One of the report's authors likens the problem to this past summer's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – the initial spill garnered some concern, but once the huge oil slicks and oil-laden birds became visible, public awareness (and righteous outrage) grew. By making the space debris issue a shared problem, a space Superfund could instigate more cooperative engagement to solve the problem.
And like the BP oil spill, the report's authors acknowledge, simply having a "remedy" on the shelf won't suffice. A space Superfund could develop and test effective methods of containing and dealing with space debris before a major disaster happens in space so that industry or agencies aren't casting about for a solution while an orbital calamity is unfolding.
Because if containing a mess 5,000 feet underwater appeared difficult, just wait until the scenario is replaying itself 200 miles above the Earth.
NASA just made another donation to the floating debris field this past week.
I say this is a great opportunity for private industry to collect on some expensive rare-earth materials just floating in space helping nobody.
That's great, super fund is exactly what we need. Now all we need are space cowboys with the job of going into space and collecting all the junk. If they are looking for volunteers, look me up, always wanted to be a space trash man.
Im having more fun putting the new spam prevention phrases you have to answer together as a coherent statement...
What is the second word in the phrase " events cosmic paths back whatever"?
Cosmological Polotics Show No Favoritism
They need to be careful, they could put 5 words together in a phrase and conceptualize something crazy and we all implode.
wait this is too good..."other from charge can universe"
I think its talking about those unseen particles
John Searl could have cleaned up that mess in a few weeks with his IGV if the USAF had had the sense to take him up on the offer of his services.
Lets wait for AEROSPHERE to tell us about his giant sphere that will "suck" up all this trash and bring back to earth so we can recycle it. it is a cute idea. When I was a kid I used to come up with cute ideas too. I never understood why we didn't try to capture a dwarf star and build a dome around it so we could capture all of its energy. then I grew up. AND I saw my idea used in a Star Trek the next Generation episode with Scotty. (a dyson sphere. I still claim that Gene stole that from me)
On the other hand, how long will it be until the density of debris increases to the point where the "cloud" starts to block the sun enough to reverse global warming? Not likely in my lifetime, I guess...
Just a side note: I think we should all make sure that PopSci is not a spambot by asking it for the sixth word in a series of 5 words.
We could use huge, multi-ton, solid steel space "bulldozers" flying in varying orbits at different altitudes. As they run into smaller objects, they would slow the little ones down and the smaller objects would spiral in to a blazing end.
Of course, you'd have to send bigger bulldozers up to get rid of the old dozers when the original ones had been slowed down by all of those collisions with little bits they were clearing up.
And then there's the whole pesky problem with the limitations of chemical rockets with their relatively puny payloads, which would make it impossible to send huge, multi-ton, solid steel space bulldozers into space.
They aliens that abducted me back in '73 come back to get me every few years. If I remember, I'll ask them if they can help out.
I imagine we could use carbon nanotubes as planned for the space elevator to sling and pile up debris and use that mass just for the space elevator or other thing in some future, after all it was very expensive to put it all there.