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Space Australia Earth Science Technology

Aussie Lasers To Stop Satellite Collisions, Death 84

Posted by timothy
from the elaborate-postponement dept.
bennyboy64 writes "An Australian company is developing a laser tracking system that will help prevent collisions between satellites and space debris, ZDNet reports. 'The trouble is it's [debris] in orbit and travelling at orbital speeds, which means that it is travelling at about 30,000 kilometres an hour," said the CEO of the Australian company. 'If even a tiny little piece runs into a satellite it'll destroy it or punch a hole through a person if they're out there space walking.'"
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Aussie Lasers To Stop Satellite Collisions, Death

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  • Say What? (Score:5, Funny)

    by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @10:40PM (#32922544) Homepage Journal
    The Australians have a laser than can stop death? Now that is news I can use! Where can I get one?
    • Asteroids! (Score:4, Funny)

      by evil_aar0n (1001515) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @10:47PM (#32922596)

      Sounds like the old Asteroids game. If they're looking for volunteers, I'd be happy to put my years of experience to good use.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Australians have a laser than can stop death? Now that is news I can use! Where can I get one?

      The dark wavelength of the laser is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be... unnatural.

      Is it possible to learn these powers?

      Only from an Aussie...

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        Is it possible to learn these powers?

        Only from an Aussie...

        He'll just smile, and give you a vegemite sandwich.

    • by Kepesk (1093871)
      LAZARS! The best way to stop any threat. Falling satellites? Lasers! Massive earthquakes? LAZARS! The Bubonic Plague? SUPER-LAZARZ!

      And if you can attach them to cats, all the better.
      • Massive earthquakes? LAZARS!

        Yes, i've seen that in a rather shocking real life documentary on SyFy, called MegaFault. They could stop an earthquake ripping open half the US (avoiding large cities, thank God) by firing lasers at it. Then some lave came up, then something froze, it got all too high-tech for me... But the same mastermind that designed KITT in the new Knight Rider was behind it, i am grateful we have such geniusses with us in this era.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ozmanjusri (601766)
      Where can I get one?

      They're attached to the heads of our sharks.

      • Kangaroos shooting lasers, they already have a hard enough punch.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Where can I get one?

        They're attached to the heads of our sharks.

        No, it's worse than that the Australian implementation will use saltwater crocodiles, they wanted an amphibious weapon system!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dutchmaan (442553)
      Darth Vader hates the sound of "The Life Star"
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      They already have lasers that can often stop death. You'll find them in hospitals; lasers are used in all sorts of surgeries. My retina specialist used one on me that stopped blindness, [yahoo.com] although I later had to undergo traditional surgery (a vitrectomy) when the retina detached. I journaled about it here. [slashdot.org]

  • by euroq (1818100) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @10:44PM (#32922568)
    Wow, sharks with frickin' laser beams are in space, saving humanity from impending doom!
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @10:45PM (#32922582) Homepage Journal

    Electro Optic Systems' laser technology, with the help of a federal government grant, will enable the Mount Stromlo observatory in Canberra to track space junk and sell the data it collects to satellite owners and companies like NASA.

    Reading the summary I had hopes they had a laser rocket thing worked out: you heat the leading edge of a bit of space junk. Gas comes off that side and pushes the fragment backwards so it re-enters the atmosphere. But no. Its just a better way to detect the particles.

    • by LurkerXXX (667952)

      and sell the data it collects to satellite owners and companies like NASA.

      NASA is a company?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      to track space junk and sell the data it collects to satellite owners and companies like NASA

      *on phone* Hello, NASA? Hi, I'm ******** at the Mount Stromlo observatory in Canberra. We've just detected several objects on a collision course with the manned space station. We can provide you with a safe trajectory to avoid what will otherwise certainly be a catastrophic and fatal collision, but first, how much is that information worth to you?

      Of course, it could be worse:

      *on phone* Yo, NASA! Listen, this is Vinnie callin from Brooklyn. My associates at tha observahtory in Sicily tell me that there might

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by c0lo (1497653)

      Electro Optic Systems' laser technology, with the help of a federal government grant, will enable the Mount Stromlo observatory in Canberra to track space junk and sell the data it collects to satellite owners and companies like NASA.

      But no. Its just a better way to detect the particles.

      Huh? Not event that, mate, for the time being is manual. From TFA:

      "It's still a manually operated system, so this grant will transition us to commercial operation and automate that whole system so it can actually run unattended," Smith said.

      Yeah, sure I imagine that there is actually some automation in place, but... if left only to imagination... is also funny to imagine a person using a laser pointer to search/detect junk in space (TFA doesn't say a word how they a conducting the search/tracking using the laser!)

      • Just point the beam in a single direction and look for reflections. Once you start picking up the same particles over and oevr just redirect the beam slightly. Either way you collect a stream of data.

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Just point the beam in a single direction and look for reflections. Once you start picking up the same particles over and oevr just redirect the beam slightly. Either way you collect a stream of data.

          Unless you fan out the laser beam (and loose intensity), I reckon the probability to capture something is lower than winning the Tats Lotto - which wouldn't make a good business case. Should be something more sophisticated than what you suggest.

          • I considered using a rotating mirror to scan the sky. The question is whether your system can work fast enough to actually capture more particles that way?

            • by c0lo (1497653) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @11:52PM (#32922942)

              The question is whether your system can work fast enough to actually capture more particles that way?

              This is where the analogy with the TatsLotto serves. Either way: play always you favourite numbers (keep thye beam in the same position) or change them from one game to the other (sweep the sky), the probability to win is the same if you play a single ticket (using a narrow beam).
              Granted, if you know a region where is more probable to find what you are looking for, the analogy with Lotto stops. But also exploring only in a certain region will make you prone to miss other debris that may knock down a satellite of your customers.

              I reckon that using a slightly divergent beam (even better, a divergence controlled one) would improve the chances better than narrow-beam sky-sweeping method (not that the two methods are exclusive).

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @11:51PM (#32922934) Journal
      Lasers of that power are certainly more expensive than the lower-power tracking variety; but I suspect that the major stumbling block would be political.

      There are, for instance, a number of influential entities with rather expensive satellites continually exposing fancy CCDs through even fancier optics. A laser powerful enough to blow vapor off of space junk, focused through the sort of optics used in ground surveillance satellites, shining on a piece of silicon specifically designed to be light sensitive. Yeah, that'd make the National Reconnaissance Office really happy...
      • by deniable (76198)
        They'd need to send up new birds. I see this as a perfect chance to revitalize American industry, or industry in whatever Asian country makes satellites these days.
  • On an off note, how much space debris would be needed to protect ourselves from potential alien invasions? (or at least convince aliens that our society is too backwards to consider conquering)

    • by grantek (979387)

      Probably more than it would take for the environmentally-fanatic aliens to become enraged and drop a blob of red matter into our planet's core...

    • I suspect that the answer depends too heavily on technological hypotheticals to say anything really useful...

      If they arrive on some delicate, bubble-like world ship that is planning on entering earth orbit? Not actually all that much.

      If they've invented a classic sci-fi "energy shield"? Probably enough to preclude nearly all human satellite activity.

      If "they" are actually just a drifting cloud of space-hard spores or berserker nanites? Nothing short of a solid shell will be of the slightest use.
    • Protection? Gonna have to go with obscurity.

      If aliens can move about the galaxy freely, the ships would have to be large to hold a sustained, reproducing population. That means they can move lots of mass. Hello, asteroid bombardment.

      If they can move at greater speeds, then they can do the same with whatever solids they find floating about. Hello, relativistic bombardment.

      Scroll down a bit to the excerpt from The Killing Star. http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/rocket3x2.html#rbomb [projectrho.com]

      'course, that's just anni

    • by WillAdams (45638)

      Depends on the aliens --- Hal Clement's 1952 short story ``Halo'' touches on this w/ an interesting twist.

      William

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Are they just making shit up or what? 30,000 mph is relative to the ground. Anything orbiting with be near that speed, including the space men. Someone tell me I'm wrong, and please tell me why. It seems to me the relative velocities would be small.
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @11:15PM (#32922748) Homepage Journal

      Are they just making shit up or what? 30,000 mph is relative to the ground. Anything orbiting with be near that speed, including the space men. Someone tell me I'm wrong, and please tell me why. It seems to me the relative velocities would be small.

      The particles you collide with could be in the same orbit but going the other way, though this is unlikely. More likely they could be in a different orbital plane so they sideswipe you at significant speed, or in an orbit with a different eccentricity so they have a decent relative velocity. Many particles cross each others paths with the speed of a fast bullet.

    • by zooblethorpe (686757) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @11:16PM (#32922752)

      Sure, 30,000 mph is relative to the ground. The velocity of a piece of space junk relative to an astronaut could well be 60,000 mph if it's going the other way round. Even if both junk and astronaut are orbiting west-to-east, they could be on divergent ellipses. So collision speeds could go anywhere from 0 to 60,000 mph. Heck, I'm pretty sure that a collision at a velocity difference of "just" 1,000 mph would hurt.

      Cheers,

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Orbital velocity is about 17,000 MPH, so the 30,000 number already accounts for the particle going in the opposite direction, more or less.

    • by c0lo (1497653) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @11:20PM (#32922784)

      It seems to me the relative velocities would be small.

      If the trajectories are sort-of aligned, which doesn't need to be. I think you can imagine two bodies orbiting in opposite senses or on polar/equatorial orbits: the problem of resolving the relative velocity is left as a homework.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Orders of magnitude less dense, and considerably less cooperative.

      There are certainly a few large bits and pieces that could probably be of great use to, say, hypothetical Mars explorers(the ISS, maybe a few of the larger junk satellites or upper rocket stages); but the overwhelming majority of the stuff is tiny little bits and pieces, zipping around at horrid velocities in a variety of orbits across a vast volume of space. By comparison the (fairly tenuous and soupy) Pacific garbage patch is practically
  • Not at All (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @11:36PM (#32922858)

    "track space junk and sell the data it collects to satellite owners and companies like NASA"

    So, basically, it doesn't *do* anything. They use it like...oh, a telescope or something, and then *sell* their observations.

    Yippee. Shouldn't a project funded by federal grants not be eligible to sell their findings but be required to provide them freely to the public? Seems a little wrong to me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      "track space junk and sell the data it collects to satellite owners and companies like NASA"

      So, basically, it doesn't *do* anything. They use it like...oh, a telescope or something, and then *sell* their observations.

      Yippee. Shouldn't a project funded by federal grants not be eligible to sell their findings but be required to provide them freely to the public? Seems a little wrong to me.

      CSIRO patents their discoveries and sells licenses to use them. This doesn't seem very different to me.

    • What is the Australian public going to do with the data?
    • by Fluffeh (1273756)

      Shouldn't a project funded by federal grants not be eligible to sell their findings but be required to provide them freely to the public? Seems a little wrong to me.

      Why can't the Australian government make an investment?

      Besides, should things developed with Australian taxpayer money be free to anyone to use? What about things developed with UK funds? Or US funds? I wouldn't at all be surprised if they did provide this information for free if an Australian satellite was about to be hit.

    • by timbo234 (833667)

      Yippee. Shouldn't a project funded by federal grants not be eligible to sell their findings but be required to provide them freely to the public? Seems a little wrong to me.

      The 'federal' in the article refers to the Australian federal government not the US one. Just like the US undoubtedly charges us (Australia) for the information from its satellites (we don't have many of our own :() our government should charge you guys for the stuff we pick up with this.

  • Oz is going to blast hundreds of thousands of orbiting bit into hundreds of millions of bits?
    Then what? Duck tape?
    • by sea4ever (1628181)
      I think you mean duct tape.
      Also I think you've got it wrong. The article gives me the impression that they are not going to blast the particles, merely locate them.
      With the data of where the particles are and so on, it wouldn't be so hard to map out collision courses and hence determine how to move your satellite/astronaut out of the way.
      From the article: Unfortunately, the lasers won't blast junk out of the sky. "At the moment it doesn't get rid of it," Smith said. "What it does allow is for us to tra
  • Sounds like a Planet ES story to me.

    in which case, by all means, put an end to space junk before we need to go out there to collect it ourselves at those speeds.

    • by xSander (1227106)
      Why is Planetes spelled as two words? Cause it's not. It's Greek (ever guessed why they used Greek letters in the title sequence?) for "planets" or (loosely) "wanderers".
      • by Khyber (864651)

        I do it for the morons that have to search the torrents for it as a separate set of words. I have the actual DVD collection, and while I know I paid for it, most likely won't and so they'll need a decent rip, so giving it out by name works better than having them hunt it down. I don't provide anything but words.

  • Do not look down to Australia with the remaining space-based telescope.
  • I had no idea ZDNet still existed.

  • It is not tracking that is the problem. USSTRATCOM (formerly NORAD) tracks everything in LEO from decimeter size, plus a lot smaller stuff.

    The real bottleneck is in the computer power to:

    1) sort out which detections concern the same object;
    2)calculate all the potential risk situations for these thousands of objects
  • 'The trouble is it's [debris] in orbit and travelling at orbital speeds, which means that it is travelling at about 30,000 kilometres an hour," said the CEO of the Australian company. 'If even a tiny little piece runs into a satellite it'll destroy it or punch a hole through a person if they're out there space walking.'

    Umm, maybe I'm not recalling middleschool science classes correctly - but when you're "space walking" you're ALSO moving at "orbital speeds"

    So - how would the space debris punch a hole through a person if they were space walking? Sure, if it's traveling in a different direction it *might* - but still: the astronaut is moving at the same speed as the shuttle as the satellite they're deploying/fixing

    • 'The trouble is it's [debris] in orbit and travelling at orbital speeds, which means that it is travelling at about 30,000 kilometres an hour," said the CEO of the Australian company. 'If even a tiny little piece runs into a satellite it'll destroy it or punch a hole through a person if they're out there space walking.'

      Umm, maybe I'm not recalling middleschool science classes correctly - but when you're "space walking" you're ALSO moving at "orbital speeds"

      So - how would the space debris punch a hole through a person if they were space walking? Sure, if it's traveling in a different direction it *might* - but still: the astronaut is moving at the same speed as the shuttle as the satellite they're deploying/fixing

      Debris can be moving in any random orbit. Consider the failed deployments, broken-off or detached bits and the initial force which set the debris into motion.

  • Very poor wording in that article / title there. Our Ozzian brethren aren't gonna prevent anything.

  • Why not put several large chunks of Silly Putty in space to sweep up the space debris? You could even put it in orbit in front of the object you wish to protect and then track the silly putty, since as things impact it its trajectory would change.

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky

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