Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space Science

Hubble Repair Mission At Risk 224

Posted by samzenpus
from the someone-take-out-the-space-trash dept.
MollyB writes "According to Wired, the recent collision of satellites may put the Atlantis shuttle mission to repair Hubble in the 'unacceptable risk' status: 'The spectacular collision between two satellites on Feb. 10 could make the shuttle mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope too risky to attempt. Before the collision, space junk problems had already upped the Hubble mission's risk of a "catastrophic impact" beyond NASA's usual limits, Nature's Geoff Brumfiel reported today, and now the problem will be worse. Mark Matney, an orbital debris specialist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas told the publication that even before the collision, the risk of an impact was 1 in 185, which was "uncomfortably close to unacceptable levels" and the satellite collision "is only going to add on to that."'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Hubble Repair Mission At Risk

Comments Filter:
  • hmm. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by apodyopsis (1048476) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:27AM (#26914255)

    we were discussing the debris problem at work over coffee the other day.

    we were trying to find solutions to it in our non-expert fashion.

    sadly the best we could come up with were:

    (1) putting a impact shield around spacecraft - but the kind of impact speeds we are talking about probably makes this uneconomical as the shield would need to be massive.
    (2) some kind of automated space cleaner that went around removing debris - but we had no idea how that could possibly work or be designed
    (3) vastly improved tracking capabilities so we could avoid the worst areas and steer around them
    (4) pre-emptive removal of dead satalites (no, not shooting them down from earth - attaching small moters to send them into the atmosphere) - maybe steering them into a declining orbit as the last thing they do before swithing them off
    (5) just abandoning the whole outer space game anyhow and using a vast fiber optic ring on the surface for communication needs

    there were probably other ideas that we came up with that I cannot remember, but this might get some comments/advice/derision.

    but we all agreed, this problem will only get worse. and choosing different orbit altitudes only delays confronting the issue - but might be cheaper in the short term.

    • Re:hmm. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ihlosi (895663) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:37AM (#26914313)

      putting a impact shield around spacecraft - but the kind of impact speeds we are talking about probably makes this uneconomical as the shield would need to be massive.

      The spacecraft would have trouble getting off the ground. That's even worse than uneconomical.

      some kind of automated space cleaner that went around removing debris - but we had no idea how that could possibly work or be designed

      The problem with this is - if that "cleaner" gets hit by debris, you've just added to the problem instead of reducing it.

      pre-emptive removal of dead satalites (no, not shooting them down from earth - attaching small moters to send them into the atmosphere) - maybe steering them into a declining orbit as the last thing they do before swithing them off

      That would have been a way to keep the problem in check, and it's being done with some satellites. But usually whoever puts satellites up there is too cheap to worry about disposal, since by the time it becomes a problem, they're most likely not around anymore and don't have to worry. Yay, just let the following generations clean up the crap, just like with everything else.

      • by paiute (550198)

        putting a impact shield around spacecraft - but the kind of impact speeds we are talking about probably makes this uneconomical as the shield would need to be massive.

        The spacecraft would have trouble getting off the ground. That's even worse than uneconomical.

        Here's a thought. What if each spacecraft did not lug a big old shield up into orbit. What if we build an orbiting "overcoat" which had the necessary shielding and a space inside to accomodate the spacecraft. Then you launch as light as you can and do

        • by Talderas (1212466)

          And how many years will it take to lug the shield up there and build it?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by DarkAce911 (245282)

        NASA has been kicking around the idea of a Space Tug and space vacuum cleaner. The cleaner would be a satellite that has some kind of sticky foam outer shell that will collect the small stuff.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Automated space cleaner... Perhaps a satellite that's solar powered and uses an electromagnet to repel pieces into the atmosphere? Although I suppose that would push it out of orbit... Maybe if there's enough air it could compress some and then use it as a jet to keep in orbit...

      Planetes anyone? One of my favorites.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetes [wikipedia.org]

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by theeddie55 (982783)
        Space Roombas. That image will keep me amused for literally minutes!
    • Re:hmm. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by plasmacutter (901737) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:44AM (#26914355)

      1) - there is moderately workable impact shielding developed for satellites/space craft which consists of plates separated by gaps which spread out the kinetic energy of debris and has been proven effective against small impacts.

      2) "space cleaning" could easily be done by deploying some large engineered dragnet style objects into the path of the debris. Obviously careful engineering would have to be used to assure collisions dont cause pieces to splash from the dragnet, but I think its quite doable.

      3) we already track space debris down to very small levels. Currently nasa have maps of these pieces, down to the size of a screw if I remember correctly.

      4) this is often done already, at least by government agencies. Private companies are another matter, but i've never heard of a private satellite going completely out of use.

      5) we may as well just nuke it all now if we don't establish extra-terrestrial colonies. Colonization of space is the next logical step for a species which develops intelligence, and if we don't continue down that path we are a dead-end branch waiting to be pruned from the tree of life.

      • Re:hmm. (Score:4, Funny)

        by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:36AM (#26914593) Homepage Journal

        we already track space debris down to very small levels. Currently nasa have maps of these pieces, down to the size of a screw if I remember correctly.

        Manually.

        Yeah, Michael Bay films are not a good indicator of military capabilities either.

      • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:39AM (#26914599)
        You don't understand the Theory of Evolution. There is NO "next logical step" for a species which develops intelligence, and there is NO reason why not colonising space makes us a "dead end branch". As the late, great Jay Gould has pointed out, the main form of life on Earth (by biomass and by effect on the planet) is now, and has been for a very long time, bacteria. Bacteria achieve great adaptability without intelligence. If we cannot achieve the same adaptability, then environmental changes may make us extinct. But the test of evolutionary success is simply continued, unthreatened existence, not some hypothetical extension of range. If we "nuke ourselves", we've failed. If we learn to live in our existing environment without making it unusable, and adapt to its changes, we've succeeded. The idea that we must colonise space to validate our existence is a religion, not science.

        Before the troll mods start up, please let me say I'm not objecting to exploring the Solar System in the slightest (in fact I think it's far more useful than the LHC). I am pointing out that your justification makes no scientific sense.

        • by khallow (566160) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:48AM (#26914645)

          If we learn to live in our existing environment without making it unusable, and adapt to its changes, we've succeeded.

          The current environment is transitory. And eventually over geological time, it will change in a way that cannot be adapted to. Plus, it's worth noting that most species (including humans) that exist now do so precisely because they have repeatedly expanded their range.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by DingerX (847589)
            Yeah, but however transitory it is, it's far better suited to us than anything space has to offer. Seriously, any "changes over geological time" that occur are small change compared to the cost of terraforming. Or, put another way, it will take far less energy, logistics and ingenuity to maintain a human-habitable planet than to evolve one. Likewise, it will take far less genetic monkeying to keep our species compatible with this planet's environment than to adapt to that of another planet.

            So, fine, seek t
            • We are a migratory species, our migration patterns are simply on longer cycles than seasonal ones. There exists no natural planetary body that will sustain life indefinitely, eventually we will have to move to a new world and terraform it or become extinct. The sooner we develop the technology the better we will be at it. If you are content to bury your head in the sand and leave the problem to later generations, then please do not reproduce and leave the resources to the innovators and explorers who see
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by PhilHibbs (4537)

            Plus, it's worth noting that most species (including humans) that exist now do so precisely because they have repeatedly expanded their range.

            However, when our ancestors were capable of adapting to survive the KT event, they were tiny little shrew-like creatures. And when our ancestors were capable of adapting to survive the big extinction 250M years ago, they were shrimps. In order to survive a global extinction level event such as a reeeeally big asteroid impact, we have to get off of this rock. In the long run, we as a species have already failed to survive because we are too specialised to quickly adapt to the inevitable forthcoming sudden, m

        • by plasmacutter (901737) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @07:29AM (#26914819)

          Living in better balance with our environment and within our resources will not save us from a space rock or plague, off-world colonies will, and that's my point.

          The main evolutionary trait of human beings is technology, and we are in a unique position to do this, which would set us on the road to the eventually disentanglement of our survival with that of one small planet.

          If we fail to do this, then a global catastrophe will eventually happen which outstrips our technology and render us extinct.

          • Except that (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @07:49AM (#26914901)
            Will the inhabitants of those "off-world colonies" survive? We are far less likely to adapt to their conditions. The change of getting wiped out before sustainability is reached is rather high (look at the history of the colonisation of the Americas). Meanwhile, the amount of energy it takes to put even small payloads into orbit is enormous. We could easily reduce our planet to below sustainability in trying to create colonies, all of which would then fail for lack of resources. We've just done this to our economy by trying to make it expand too fast, so we have a track record.

            Research on Earth into dealing with external threats such as infalling asteroids or comets, dealing with diseases, dealing with our own inbuilt tendency to commit genocide, is far cheaper and more likely to pay dividends. Let's protect ourselves from disease and space rocks first, then we will be demonstrating our adaptability and survival skills. Running for the hills is monkey behavior, dealing with the predators may be what made us human in the first place. After all, we could realistically have a basic comet and asteroid shield by 2030.

            I repeat: the idea of space colonies is currently not even science fiction, it's religion. Which was my original point.

            • by MrKaos (858439)

              5) we may as well just nuke it all now if we don't establish extra-terrestrial colonies. Colonization of space is the next logical step for a species which develops intelligence, and if we don't continue down that path we are a dead-end branch waiting to be pruned from the tree of life.

              I am pointing out that your justification makes no scientific sense....I repeat: the idea of space colonies is currently not even science fiction, it's religion. Which was my original point.

              With respect, while you make som

            • Will the inhabitants of those "off-world colonies" survive? We are far less likely to adapt to their conditions.

              Exactly. We have spent the last several millennium finding our own balance, a genetic war if you will, against pathogens and other animals to establish our dominance in this sphere. There is no reason to suppose that we will conquer another world with ease even if it is filled with 'lesser' forms of life.

          • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:44AM (#26915133) Homepage

            An earth devastated by an asteroid is still a much more friendly place to live on then either Moon or Mars. Self sustaining off-world colonies won't happen for many many years to come.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by michrech (468134)

              Especially with *that* attitude!

              An earth devastated by an asteroid is still a much more friendly place to live on then either Moon or Mars. Self sustaining off-world colonies won't happen for many many years to come.

          • by silanea (1241518) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @10:38AM (#26916225)

            If we fail to do this, then a global catastrophe will eventually happen which outstrips our technology and render us extinct.

            So?

            Honestly I could not care less. Not trying to troll, I really don't see an issue here. Humans have been around for some 200,000 years. Nice, but that is not exactly a long time span. Dinosaurs were around for more than 160 million years - 160,000,000, you notice the difference? And they still vanished. Humanity as a whole is quite insignificant, one amongst an uncountable mass of life forms in this planet, outlived (by time of existence, not concurrency) by most other species.

            Why does everyone believe that we should be destined to walk this universe forever? Sorry, folks, hate to break it to you: The odds of that are damningly slim.

            Big deal. By my estimation one of the following will have occurred well before our earth evolves to a point where living conditions will not allow us to adapt anymore:

            • We will have suffocated from our own toxins, fumes and trash.
            • Global nuclear armageddon, triggered by either a russian fascist, a chinese fascist or an american retard.
            • God proves his existence - by hitting the reset switch.

            I am really surprised, and somewhat concerned here. Supposedly /.'s target group should predominantly consist of engineers, scientists and generally geeks and nerds - people who rely on common sense and logic to make a living. (Not counting those working for Microsoft or Sun. Those have somehow mastered the forbidden art of producing systematically structured chaos.)

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by MrKaos (858439)

              Why does everyone believe that we should be destined to walk this universe forever?

              Because we can ;-)

            • by cowscows (103644)

              That's not a logically attitude, it's a negative and defeatist attitude.
              The scripting language I used to to code a website last week will likely be obsolete in a decade or so, so I don't know why I even bothered writing it in the first place. I should probably have just saved myself the trouble and watched TV all day instead of spending a couple of hours writing in a doomed computer language.

              A building can't realistically be expected to last forever, so why do we bother with structural engineering, or safet

        • by Cassander (251642) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:57AM (#26915191)

          The idea that we must colonise space to validate our existence is a religion, not science.

          The way I look at it, we are the reproductive system for the entire biosphere. If we don't colonize other planets around different stars (let alone other rocks around this one) then all of Gaia* has failed, not just one little species.

          * Please note I do not actually personify "Gaia", I just use it as a convenient and poetic label for the entire interconnected biosphere.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Firethorn (177587)

            The way I look at it, we are the reproductive system for the entire biosphere.

            You know, I think this is a very apt comparison.

            Like reproducive organs, especially the testes mammals, we enact extensive changes on the whole planet; not all of which are beneficial. Yet, we're the one big hope for reproduction; so almost ANYTHING is worth it. If we do relocated, odds are we'll take a big chunk of the rest of the biosphere with us.

            After that, it breaks down a bit; Gaia is neither male or female. ;)

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Benfea (1365845)
          Perhaps he phrased it badly, but I think what he meant to say is that having humans on more than one planet enhances our survivability greatly, which [b]does[/b] affect us from the standpoint of evolution.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          You misunderstand life. His point is a valid one: if our existence depends on earth, then at some point our existence will end when earth changes enough that we can't adapt.

          If we learn to live in our existing environment without making it unusable, and adapt to its changes, we've succeeded.

          We've only succeeded in continuing our dependence on something that the fossil record show isn't dependable. Add into it our own lack of dependability and we've got a major problem.

          The idea that we must colonise space to validate our existence is a religion, not science.

          Not to validate, just to extend and guarantee. We've spread from Africa and put ourselves into every place and biome on the earth, making it so that a catastr

        • by vertinox (846076)

          You don't understand the Theory of Evolution. There is NO "next logical step" for a species which develops intelligence, and there is NO reason why not colonising space makes us a "dead end branch". As the late, great Jay Gould has pointed out, the main form of life on Earth (by biomass and by effect on the planet) is now, and has been for a very long time, bacteria. Bacteria achieve great adaptability without intelligence.

          Eventually, even the bacteria will go extinct without a space program.

          It won't be tom

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ChrisA90278 (905188)

          It depends on the time scale. Yes we WILL be a dead end unless we leave the Earth but we have a billion years (more or less) before we are forced to leave. So if we explore space now or wait 10,000 years it makes little difference. On the cosmic scale 10,000 years is "nothing".

          We will eventually learn to live on Earth in a sustainable, stable way.

      • by evanbd (210358)
        For those curious, the shielding in question is a Whipple shield [wikipedia.org]. The idea is similar to gapped armor -- adding some space after the first impact gives the debris / projectile time to break up and spread out, making the next layer's job easier.
        • Reading the article you linked:

          ...but also increases the thickness of the spacecraft walls, which is not ideal for fitting spacecraft into launch vehicle fairings.

          Did anybody consider developing the Whipple Shield to "expand" on deployment? Store the layers tightly packed, then space the layers apart either mechanically or using some kind of compressed filler-material once the payload is deployed.

          The laminated nature of the hull would provide additional benefits to pressurised, manned payloads, since it wo

      • by Cally (10873)

        i've never heard of a private satellite going completely out of use.

        Are you kidding? There are hundreds of dead telecom and remote sensing spacecraft in orbit.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Rollgunner (630808)
      The problem with so many ideas to remove space debris is that most of them seem to add to the problem. Even microscopic particles can do tremendous damage at the velocities concerned.

      The best idea I've come up with would be to send a cannister into the path of the debris to be removed at a slightly lower relative velocity. This device would then open, releasing a huge cloud of rapidly expanding resinous foam (think of the canned stuff you use to fill holes in the wall). The debris would then impact and b
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cowscows (103644)

        The best idea that I've heard about is the "laser broom". Basically big ground based lasers that shine up into space and hit orbiting junk with enough energy that they start to ablate. As the material ablates from the pieces, a small amount of thrust would be created, which would alter the pieces' orbits and eventually cause them to reenter the atmosphere and burn up.

        It doesn't require putting any new material up into orbit, so you're not potentially creating even more matter up there to deal with. I think

    • Re:hmm. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Cally (10873) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:08AM (#26914971) Homepage
      Re (4), deorbiting (or parking) dead satellites - this already happens to some extent, if vehicles are still commandable at EOL and have enough delta-v in the tank to make it to a high parking orbit (or a de-orbit burn), that's usually done. I've also seen tethers mooted as a fuel-free EOL mechanism for deorbit (winch out a 20km cable which drags through the upper atmosphere and burns off enough velocity to make the sc re-enter and burn up.) Problem is that all this costs mass, which means money. There's also the problem that lots of debris isn't under any kind of command (chunks of upper stages, satellites that died in action, dropped screwdrivers, slag from old Iridiums and and so on.)
    • by Cassander (251642) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:47AM (#26915149)

      (5) just abandoning the whole outer space game anyhow and using a vast fiber optic ring on the surface for communication needs

      The real problem here is that we're wasting *vast* amounts of orbital space with competing projects that don't share information with each other. There's more than plenty of room for *one* satellite network. But every little war-happy industrialized nation and every communications company and mapping company, etc., needs their own personal network clogging the sky.

      Until we, as a species, get a little better at this "cooperation" thing and stop with the in-fighting, the debris field is just going to get worse and make space exploration difficult. (That might even be a good thing for any neighbors we might have.)

      Sadly, I don't foresee this happening any time soon.

    • LHC (Score:3, Funny)

      by Xelios (822510)
      Perhaps NASA could work with the LHC to produce a small black hole and put it in orbit. It might cause a problem later but who cares? It gets rid of the problem now, and that's all that matters amirite?
    • by Fastball (91927)

      (2) some kind of automated space cleaner that went around removing debris - but we had no idea how that could possibly work or be designed

      Put a gyroscope in a Roomba [irobot.com]?

  • Is debris from that collision heading even remotely to Hubble's orbit (otherwise, any future manned spaceflight/EVA at its altitude would be precluded by unacceptable risk), or is this just an excuse for putting elsewhere the money and other resources set aside to fly this mission?
    • by necro81 (917438)
      There is no reason to believe that the debris field will all remain in the orbits of the original satellites. When they collided, parts got thrown all over, radiating outward from the collision point. Some of those were thrown forward (faster along one orbital path than the original satellites), some were thrown backward (slower than the original orbit), some thrown up (away from earth), some down, and some sideways. The ones that were shot forward will end up in higher orbits, including some at the alti
    • Is debris from that collision heading even remotely to Hubble's orbit

      The problem isn't that the debris might be heading to Hubble's orbit. The problem is that the debris cloud is between us and Hubble, and it's getting larger.

      There was an SF author, probably Asimov, who wrote how mankind might become trapped on the planet because of the ever increasing debris field. Over time, all that debris will flatten into a ring, but that will take millions of years.
      • by pnewhook (788591)

        The problem isn't that the debris might be heading to Hubble's orbit. The problem is that the debris cloud is between us and Hubble, and it's getting larger.

        No, Hubble is below the orbit that the satellites collided in by about 150Km.

  • No, it's not the end (Score:2, Informative)

    by Bearhouse (1034238)

    Firstly, Hubble is working fine. Secondly, FTA "NASA spokeswoman, Beth Dickey, would not specifically comment on whether or not the collision had created elevated risk for the Hubble repair mission.

    "What we've told everyone is that there is an elevated risk to virtually any satellite in low-earth orbit," Dickey said. "As far as NASA's assets are concerned, that risk is considered to be very small. I have not seen or heard anything that would lead me to think differently."

    • by FTWinston (1332785) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:36AM (#26914309) Homepage

      Firstly, Hubble is working fine.

      Eh, no. Its practically dead. Thats why every delay to this service mission is so critical - if another couple of gyros go, it won't even be able to orient itself well enough to allow the astronauts to get up close. As it is, most of its main instruments are currently out of action.

      • by smoker2 (750216)
        Rubbish.
      • by pnewhook (788591)

        Eh, no. Its practically dead. Thats why every delay to this service mission is so critical - if another couple of gyros go, it won't even be able to orient itself well enough to allow the astronauts to get up close. As it is, most of its main instruments are currently out of action.

        Well if Griffin didn't cancel the robotic repair mission that was not only planned but mostly built and tested, it would have been repaired by now.

  • Kessler Syndrome (Score:5, Informative)

    by plasmacutter (901737) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:34AM (#26914291)

    It's been mentioned before, but this could be the beginning of kessler syndrome [wikipedia.org], and worldwide space agencies might need to deploy junk removal solutions.

  • Hypocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarkRose (820682) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:36AM (#26914305) Homepage

    They'll send tens of thousands of young men (and women) overseas to be shot at and kill others, but not risk seven lives to fucking further humanity and human knowledge?

    I don't get it.

    • Re:Hypocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Davemania (580154) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:43AM (#26914347) Journal
      It's easier to bury dead solider story at back of the newspaper than it is about dead astronauts orbiting around earth.
    • by Spasemunki (63473)

      "They'll" send tens of thousands overseas? When last I checked, NASA wasn't really given oversight of troop deployment and declarations of war. NASA knows, however, that the public has a low tolerance for highly visible and spectacular deaths, and that every time such a disaster takes place, the entire manned space program and space flight in general is set back by months or years, and given the budget environment and long-standing criticism of their agency may be threatened entirely.

      There are dozens of m

    • by Shivetya (243324) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @08:51AM (#26915161) Homepage Journal

      1. NASA has a limited number of astronauts.

      2. NASA has a limited number of shuttles.

      3. The public has very little stomach for "yet another NASA accident"

      4. There are far too many in Congress who see the NASA manned program as a waste of money (in other words that money could buy pools and libraries named after Congressmen!)

      5. Comparing any item to Iraq expenditures does not bolster your argument, if anything a parrot would suffice.

      Why not compare it to the fact we are willing to lose nearly FORTY THOUSAND people to vehicle deaths. The number of soldiers we lose in Iraq while deplorable by any count is minuscule compared to any other war of that scale let alone the deaths at home from stuff that should not happen in the first place.

    • by mea37 (1201159)

      They risk astronaut's lives every time they run a mission. In fact I wonder which is more dangerous on a per capita basis -- being a soldier vs. being an astronaut...

      It's not that they won't take any risk. It's that some people are discussing whether the risk has been elevated too far above the normal.

  • Soak up debris? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @05:39AM (#26914325) Homepage Journal
    My thought is to fire a sounding rocket directly into the path of the debris. At the peak altitude the rocket explodes, releasing something like strips of foil which will collide with orbiting debris. Given time, it should be possible to clean up these orbits.
    • by Ihlosi (895663)

      At the peak altitude the rocket explodes, releasing something like strips of foil which will collide with orbiting debris.

      And what will this accomplish, apart from making the problem worse by creating even more debris?

      • by MarkRose (820682) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:05AM (#26914459) Homepage

        The foil strips will make the sky even more pretty and sparkly, just like pixie dust! *taps wand*

      • Re:Soak up debris? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:14AM (#26914491) Homepage Journal
        The objects we want to take out of orbit are in a stable trajectory. If they collide with an object fired directly from the ground they will lose some velocity and move into a lower orbit. Low altitude orbits decay quickly because of drag from the atmosphere so these objects will quickly burn up.

        The object you fire from the ground to cause a collision will be shoved sideways a short distance. It can't go into orbit.

        Having thought about it for a bit I think the best thing to send up in the sounding rocket is a bottle of liquid nitrogen. It will form an expanding cloud at orbital altitude. Debris which fly through the cloud will lose some speed and their orbits will decay. Sounding rocket firings could be timed to minimise impact on operational spacecraft.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stevelinton (4044)

      I proposed something like this, but using something like snowflakes or small particles of dry ice instead of the foil, but it seems collisions at the speeds involved behave quite oddly and even "soft" targets can shatter pieces of debris into multiple smaller pieces mostly in pretty much the same orbit as the originals.

      I wonder if some kind of magnetic drag could be devised? a big hoop of superconducting wire with a current in it that would slow down conducting debris that passed through it, but gently, so

      • All you really have to do is steal a fraction of the momentum of the orbiting fragment, then it will deorbit. I think pretty much any collision will do that.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by stevelinton (4044)

          That's what I thought, but apparently what happens is that the fragment shatters, and most of the pieces carry on at almost the same velocity, while just a few are significantly slowed. Essentially your impactor drills a hole through the fragment almost instantly, slowing down only the material actually excavated from the hole. Later, the shock waves propagate sideways through the fragment, shattering it.

          Result, more orbiting fragments (albeit smaller ones).

          • Result, more orbiting fragments (albeit smaller ones).

            If the object you send to collide with the dangerous debris is not in orbit before the collision then it can't be in orbit after the collision. I think a cloud of gas might do the trick, deployed from a sounding rocket, fired straight up from the ground.

    • by evanbd (210358)
      It's an interesting idea. I think the problem is aiming it; it's essentially the same problem as anti-satellite or anti-missile weapons. Unless your sounding rocket debris cloud is unreasonably large, it's very hard to get it in just the right spot.
    • Why not use "fly paper" to catch the small stuff?
      Or a big net (same technology as solar sails)?
      Then when enough stuff is captured either burn it up by re-entry aimed at a deep trench in the Pacific, or send it into the sun.

  • I can read between the lines ....

    Nasa does not want to fix the Hubble as there budgets have been cut. They want to put the money for fixing the Hubble into something else.

    The Hubble is also Obsolete due to new technologies like Adaptive optics that allow ground based telescopes to achieve the same clarity as the Hubble.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_optics [wikipedia.org] http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/astronomy/adaptive_optics991006.html [space.com]

    Why spend money and risk peoples lives on technology tha

    • by Ihlosi (895663) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @07:17AM (#26914767)

      The Hubble is also Obsolete due to new technologies like Adaptive optics that allow ground based telescopes to achieve the same clarity as the Hubble.

      You can pull as many adaptive whatchamacallits out of the signal processing toolbox, but that doesn't change the simple fact that certain wavelengths will be absorbed by the atmosphere before they even get to your ground-based telescopes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by forkazoo (138186)

        You can pull as many adaptive whatchamacallits out of the signal processing toolbox, but that doesn't change the simple fact that certain wavelengths will be absorbed by the atmosphere before they even get to your ground-based telescopes.

        Certainly true, which is part of the reason newer space scopes focus on things like X ray or IR observation, rather than visible wavelengths. But, even at visible wavelengths, a space telescope can do some things a ground scope can't, like take a continuous week long expos

  • A possible shield (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Genda (560240) <mariet@got.nERDOSet minus math_god> on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:50AM (#26914655) Journal

    Since the trajectories of the debris will lie in a relatively narrow plane, it should be possible to device a barrier made of a plastic bag, shaped like a tube (open at both ends perpendicular to the plane of flying debris), and when inflated would make a tube like structure 6 inches thick and just slightly longer than the space shuttle and the Hubble combined. Fill the plastic cylinder full of water. The water freezes harder than steel. You now have an excellent barrier from the debris cloud while you work on Hubble. Now lift Hubble up a few thousand miles to get it out of harms way.

    After, you can move water to the ISS for safe keeping. I'm guessing they can put an extra couple thousand gallons to use for anything from experimentation and raising space crops to providing water for the first space hotel. Not to mention if that water has minerals in it, it can be used for everything from dietary supplementation to an emergency shield against high energy solar emissions.

    • by evanbd (210358)

      You can replace the tube with a wall; the debris is coming from a known direction. Doing that produces a wall roughly 125 feet by 60 feet by 6 inches. That's around 100,000 kg. The Shuttle can lift just shy of a quarter of that to low Earth orbit. Also, hypervelocity collisions don't behave like you think they do -- at the least you'd need a spall shield inside the ice shield; you probably need far more than that.

      Sorry, the brute force approach to impact shielding just doesn't work when random bits of p

    • If you want something to cover the length (122.17 ft) and wingspan (78.06 ft) of the shuttle (I'm assuming the tube like device will have a squarish face to it) enough water to fill a 6 inch sheet would be 4768.2951 cubic feet of water! A gallon is .133680555 cubic feet, so that's 35,669.3259 gallons! A gallon of water is 8.33 pounds! That results in 297125.484 lbs. You want to add nearly 150 tons to the shuttle lift off? The shuttle only weighs 120 already! Sure, I'm not including for the fact that w

  • Surely now that the two satellites have collided and fallen into Siberia, there are two LESS pieces of junk floating around in the atmosphere ?

    Wouldn't that make the risk of collision with the Hubble LESS likely ?

  • Megatron and his dastardly Decepticons!

  • Why ? (Score:5, Informative)

    by smoker2 (750216) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @09:41AM (#26915539) Homepage Journal
    Take a look at this image [universetoday.com] and tell me the problem is really that much worse.
  • Does anyone else worry about the day that some big asteroid is heading for earth? Then earthlings actually band together for once and reach consensus about firing a nuke toward the planet and all the scientists agree it'll work. But then it hits something in orbit as it heads out because all the launch windows are so complex just due to the stuff we've put up there?
  • Russia and Iridium sue each other. Or perhaps one of the other sat owners sue them both (slim chance of that one). Either would cause other sat owners to re-think about just scrapping their sats. That would also lead to a new industry that would almost certainly be picked up by private enterprise (a sat de-orbit tug).

    Totally sux if we lose the hubble mission. I wonder if it is possible to develop a tug to bring it down and up, or one that could remotely do the job (that I really doubt).
  • Is to clutter it up with so much debris that no one can launch a thing. In fact it's the best way to end all space flights altogether.

  • Calculating the odds (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jbatista (1205630)

    even before the collision, the risk of an impact was 1 in 185

    It's expectable that the risk of impact increases with mission duration. Therefore, how exactly is the risk of an impact measured this way?

    "1 in 185" of what?

    1 out of 185 two-week (for example) missions will yield one collision (on average)?

    1 out of 185 orbits will yield a collision?

    What else?

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

Working...