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Space Junk 'Cleaning' Missions Urgently Needed 165

Following a conference on space debris, the European Space Agency has warned that the amount of space junk floating around in orbit is a problem that needs to be dealt with 'urgently.' They are calling for a number of test missions to examine different methods of controlling or removing the debris. "Our understanding of the growing space debris problem can be compared with our understanding of the need to address Earth’s changing climate some 20 years ago," said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the agency's Space Debris office. A couple years ago we discussed an idea for de-orbiting space junk by hitting it with a laser to change its momentum. An Australian company has now received funding from NASA and the Australian government to try just that. "We've been developing tracking systems using lasers for some years, so we can actually track very small objects with a laser rangefinder to very high accuracy. ... If you allow that velocity to change over a period of perhaps 24 hours, then you can get actually a 100-meter shift in the location of an object to deflect it from colliding with another space debris object." Other plans are in development as well, and there currently exists an international guideline saying that new hardware must de-orbit and burn up in the atmosphere after 25 years of operation — but compliance is lagging. Meanwhile, collision events are becoming more common (PDF), and experts worry about the safety of the International Space Station and important satellites. "Their direct costs and the costs of losing them will by far exceed the cost of remedial activities."
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Space Junk 'Cleaning' Missions Urgently Needed

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  • Re:Europe again (Score:4, Insightful)

    by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:54AM (#43567697)

    Why is it always up to Europe to clean up the rest of the world's mess?

    Because we're smarter and more capable than the rest of the world, that's why! So the duty naturally falls to us. We're also very humble about it and leave all the self-congratulation to Americans. What would they do without us?

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @01:10PM (#43568173) Homepage Journal

    Speaking of assholes - how have you been?

    Mankind will never do what you dream of. No matter how far into space, no matter how far into the future mankind goes, he will always be a messy son of a bitch. Wars and fratricide. Drugs and prostitution. Theft and tax evasion. You name it - everything we've ever done wrong, we'll continue to do, to the end of time, and to the extreme edges of the universe. If we ever find alternate realities, or the dimensional doorways - we'll take all our baggage there too.

    Apparently, you don't like mankind, as you want to ensure his extinction when that one big rock DOES hit the earth.

  • by Brucelet ( 1857158 ) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @05:12PM (#43569897)
    In the real world, that's a whole lot harder than it sounds. It's easy enough to get to an arbitrary LEO satellite, assuming you know its orbit well enough, but any dismantling and reusing would be extraordinarily difficult. This counts doubly for decommissioned satellites or debris which could be tumbling in some arbitrary fashion with no way to control. Plus, manufacturing in space is really really hard, as we've learned over 30 years of the Space Shuttle and 15 of the ISS. You probably need to launch lots of equipment (plus maybe a human or two, though no existing manned vehicle is up to the task) to make it work, and now you're doing much more work and spending much more money than you would just building something from scratch. And then of course here's the kicker: you've done all this work, and now (assuming you didn't leave anything new behind) you've removed one single piece of space junk. With the mass you've already needed to bring up to do your repair/retrofit, it's highly unlikely you'll have fuel to get to another object in even a very close orbit, and so you have to head home and launch another mission. And another. For every single piece of junk out there. It'd be absolutely impossible to make this work on a large enough scale to do anything about the debris problem.
  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @08:05PM (#43571007) Journal

    Until we have a big ass disaster because of space debris, no one will do anything except talk about it.

    In case no one pays attention to Human history, we do NOT usually do anything until after someone bad has happened, then we run around like chickens with our heads cut off and remove more human rights.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.