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Space Junk Getting Worse 242

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the time-for-a-doomsday-machine dept.
HockeyPuck writes "According to Space.com the amount of space junk is getting worse. 'A head-on collision was averted between a spent upper stage from a Chinese rocket and the European Space Agency's (ESA) huge Envisat Earth remote-sensing spacecraft. [...] But what if the two objects had tangled? Such a space collision would have caused mayhem in the heavens, adding clutter to an orbit altitude where there are big problems already, said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency's Space Debris Office in Darmstadt, Germany."
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Space Junk Getting Worse

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  • by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @03:27PM (#31263170) Journal

    When you abandon satellite, fuel tanks or anything else in the space, why not just push it floating further away in space? Let some aliens take care of them.

  • by ircmaxell (1117387) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @03:33PM (#31263284) Homepage
    That's not a viable solution, because perhaps, someday very soon (on an interplanetary scale at least) we'll want to send something into space... The better alternative would be to put it into a degrading orbit, and let it burn up in the atmosphere or crash into the ocean. Then, you could create an autonomous robot to go out an collect the "small" debris (and incapacitated objects) that are out there, and send them into a degrading orbit. At least we'd be able to predict some cool shooting stars!
  • Options (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jeng (926980) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @03:34PM (#31263300)

    I wonder why this issue hasn't been fixed by now.

    I can come up with quite a few ways that we could remove space junk, most aren't very good, but there is one I think would work the best.

    Launch a couple satellites with solid state lasers. Heat up the side of the space junk facing earth and let the laser push it into the atmosphere.

    Plus if you have a few dozen up there you could perhaps deflect larger objects, yet they would be useless if you wanted to shoot a target on the surface of the Earth.

    There has to be a reason that there has been next to no attempt to control the space junk issue, I guess getting funding to clean up orbits is hard to come by.

  • Re:Options (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jeng (926980) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @03:46PM (#31263456)

    Solar panels.

    We're not talking a very powerful laser here, it doesn't have to be.

  • Re:Options (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tetsujin (103070) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @03:46PM (#31263462) Homepage Journal

    I wonder why this issue hasn't been fixed by now.

    I can come up with quite a few ways that we could remove space junk, most aren't very good, but there is one I think would work the best.

    Launch a couple satellites with solid state lasers. Heat up the side of the space junk facing earth and let the laser push it into the atmosphere.

    Plus if you have a few dozen up there you could perhaps deflect larger objects, yet they would be useless if you wanted to shoot a target on the surface of the Earth.

    There has to be a reason that there has been next to no attempt to control the space junk issue, I guess getting funding to clean up orbits is hard to come by.

    There will be no concerted effort to remove space junk until the risk of collision with space junk rises to the point that it costs less to remove the junk than to risk being hit by it.

    It could be that this is some important idea in physics I simply don't understand... But how does a laser push an object into the atmosphere? What good does heating up one side of it do? How powerful of a laser do you need to significantly alter the trajectory of a piece of space debris? And how do you heat up one side of it if the object is spinning? (Which it almost surely is...) What happens if the laser misses? And if the object you're shooting at doesn't give off a diffuse reflection, how do you know if you hit or missed?

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @03:48PM (#31263498) Homepage
    We need to have someone up in space, collecting all this crap and recycling it. Even if it is just Sanford & Son style recycling, it costs way too much money to get mass up there for us to just throw it out and leave it there.

    If something weighs 3 tons and is in orbit, someone should be able to take it up to the space station, bolt it down, and start wielding the holes shut.

  • by Speare (84249) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @04:00PM (#31263650) Homepage Journal

    A couple of thousand objects floating around (OK with their own intrinsic velocity) in such a ginormous area, isn't going to cause *that* many problems.

    The odds of guessing your birthday correctly is roughly 1:365. That's dismal odds. The odds of picking the birthday of somebody in your household is slightly higher, because everyone in your family probably has a different day for their birthday; however, it's really really unlikely (barring twins) for there to be a COLLISION where two people share the same birthday. If you go to the pub or classroom, however, the chances of SOME PAIR of people with the same birthday skyrockets. In fact, you should bet that there WILL be such a collision in a group of only 24 people. If you played the game "are there two people here with the same birthday" in a few different classrooms, you'd easily win more than you lost.

    Collisions of space junk is very similar, except (1) all the birthdays are continuously moving on the calendar as the pieces orbit, so it's like you're playing the birthday game over and over again, many times per second for decades, (2) you only need to win the birthday game once, and (3) you're playing with billion dollar satellites and astronauts' lives, not beer money. Do you really want to leave it to such odds anymore?

  • by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster@man.gmail@com> on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @04:11PM (#31263776)

    Not sure how serious you're being, but a laser could be used without needing to vaporize the entire object. A laser broom [wikipedia.org] works by vaporizing just a small part of the object to create thrust and knock the object out of orbit.

    The laser broom is intended to be used at high enough power to punch through the atmosphere with enough remaining power to ablate material from the debris for several minutes. This would provide thrust to alter its orbit, dropping the perigee into the upper atmosphere, increasing drag so that the debris would eventually burn up on reentry.

  • by dziban303 (540095) <dziban303@NoSpaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @04:28PM (#31264002) Homepage

    To give a satellite the ability to do any of these things, it must carry its own rocket motors and fuel - this increases the satellite's launch-weight, which in turn increases the fuel requirements of the booster.

    Actually, a rocket motor and fuel is not required. A cheap, easy, and--I hate to use this word, but--"free" form of orbital propulsion exists. Electrodynamic tether propulsion [wikipedia.org]. Extend a conducting wire out from the spacecraft, and as it moves through the Earth's magnetic field, it can act as a motor or a brake like a normal electric motor. No fuel required.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @04:46PM (#31264230) Homepage Journal

    When you abandon satellite, fuel tanks or anything else in the space, why not just push it floating further away in space? Let some aliens [slashdot.org] take care of them.

    Why should the foreigners have all the fun? And rather than pushing them into space, do what has been done for years -- push it towards earth and let it burn up in the atmosphere. Ten or so years ago I saw a remarkable a spectacular bright green shooting star, which I found out a few days later was a piece of space junk with a lot of copper the Russians had discarded from MIR. I'm all for space junk buring in the atmosphere, it's really a sight from earth.

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