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 initial density of the cloud will create enough drag to slow the debris just enough to de-orbit it, and the launch rocket would remain low enough to fall harmlessly back to Earth. More at New Scientist.
That actually sounds like a rather ingenious idea, only thing is exactly how much of this inert gas is going to be needed to provide the necessary drag and what size rocket is needed to launch that much.
This sounds like the plan is to use a giant rocket powered shotgun to blast space debris out of orbit.
This sounds like a distracting scheme of getting rid of space junk, while changing the atmosphere and tinker with global warming. If it works, they own up to it. If it does not, mum, the word.
Why would you haul up tons of inert gas when you could grab it along the way?
Better yet, make a ship that porpoises through the upper atmosphere around the globe collecting air then dispersing air at targeted debris.
We all know that for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. So every time debris collides, the paths of both objects are altered. This is an optimistic approximation, considering that each object has the potential to become many more objects upon collision. The Kessler Effect is a scenario where the density of space debris in LEO is so great that enough collisions take place to start a cascade of collisions, rendering LEO impassable. We can track a great many space objects, but there is a minimum threshold for observing/tracking space objects.
@D13: The gas is not simply moving the debris around a bit to make it appear to be less. The principal is that the gas, which is denser than space, will inherently induce more drag on the debris. This drag will be just enough to de-orbit the debris, which will burn up upon reentry. So it's not just "moving your peas around your plate." It's actually eating them! Regarding your additional proposal to send the amassed debris toward the sun: that would require more energy (to escape Earth gravity) and cost more money than launching hundreds of gas-filled rockets to LEO in order to deorbit debris.
@rodsomnia: You can't simply "grab things along the way" as you head to orbit. The drag of any capturing apparatus would greatly increase the required energy to attain escape velocity and enter orbit. Not to mention that as you bring in more gas, you would be increasing your rocket weight, thereby complicating the orbital mechanics of launch. Additionally, gas in the upper atmosphere is not inert. You would have to separate the minimal amounts of inert gases from the atmosphere so that you would not be introducing satellite foes to the space environment (like molecular oxygen). And don't even get me started on the porpoising ship. I'll leave that one for you to ponder (if you need help figuring it out, try to skip a rock across the ocean).
I think Boeing's idea is one of the best proposals to date for LEO debris clean-up. But I’m with @Robot concerning how the introduction of any type of gas at LEO may impact the atmosphere as a whole.
Ah, the Earth is safe, the aliens will never come to Earth and attack. They can't find a parking spot!
Let's hope the rocket doesn't fail and explode IN our atmosphere and give us another ice age -_____- Seems like a great idea though and I wouldn't mind a little more shade.
This would be the ideal application for a space plane similar to the virgin galactic starship one. Does not require a great height, and is reusable over and over again.
wouldn't it be a better idea to find a way to collect the material and reuse/recylce it, rather than eject it out into space? limited resources an' all...
How do you keep the gas in place? Would the cloud not be in orbit the same as the debris at the same speed as the debris? It won't slow the junk down! Also, how do you keep the gas from dispersing immediately in the vacuum of space? I think someone is pulling your leg.