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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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  • Planetes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bidule ( 173941 ) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @11:42AM (#43567611) Homepage
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 27, 2013 @12:49PM (#43568023)

    If we can't manage our common sky, even with so much of the investment controlled by the elite. How can we ever hope to manage the bigger mess down here?

  • by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @12:59PM (#43568099)

    Nice SciFi, but only a little statistics will soon tell you that...
    Space is big, really really big (even the prefered orbits).

    To sustain the required chain reaction you need a WHOLE lot more junk, and you also need it to be in particular orbits (too much of it is in somewhat similar orbits..)

    Its 'bad' right now because of the high cost of a VERY rare event (a significant energy impact), not because impacts are common.

    Impacts also tend not NOT produce a cloud of high energy objects, most objects are metalic and tend to be punched through rather than shatter (yes, even at the cool side of orbital temperatures).

    Of course plenty of people (governments, etc) realise that there is a fair bit of valuable 'junk' up there, and its value will rise in the future, however we will not see any mandate for collecting it and keeping in orbit for reuse, simply because a LOT of it is far too classified - even the commercial stuff - if China for example started collecting up old US sattelites, I suspect there would be trouble, etc.

    The thing to remember is this 'global warming type emergency' is bring proposed by the head of a body who would get funding to work on it - sound at all surprising?

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