How to eradicate space junk?
The United States and Switzerland are seeking ways of destroying space junk, including spacecraft debris.
There are an estimated 20,000 space debris with the diameter more than 10 centimeters orbiting the Earth now.
The space junk, including obsolete spacecraft fragments and rocket debris, would be a threat to the life of astronauts working in the International Space Station and serious damage to other spaceships and satellites.
“NASA is taking it very seriously,” Mason A. Peck, chief technologist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, told the New York Times.
Space junk is expected to increase further as China as well as the United States and Russia have been increasingly launching satellites amid active scheme of developing space.
The New York Times reported Sunday that scientists are stepping in with a variety of creative solutions to dispose of space junk, especially big pieces before they collide and break into smaller ones.
Switzerland is planning to launch a satellite to clean space junk.
Last week, researchers at a top Swiss university, the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, announced that they were designing CleanSpace One, a sort of vacuum cleaner in the sky ― an $11 million one ― that will be able to navigate close to a satellite and grab it with a big claw, whereupon both will make a fiery death dive.
NASA has started financing research to come up with some solutions. Raytheon, for one, is studying whether a high-altitude balloon might be able to carry a machine that would essentially shoot puffs of air into the path of orbiting debris. Even that slight increase in atmospheric drag could force junk to fall back to Earth.
NASA just gave $1.9 million to Star Technology and Research, a small company in South Carolina, to develop and test technologies for a spacecraft it calls the ElectroDynamic Debris Eliminator ― Edde, for short. Powered by a 6-mile-long wire ― make that “space tether” ― that generates energy as it is pulled through the Earth’s magnetic field, Edde would sidle up to a piece of junk, whip out a disposable net to catch it and then move to a lower orbit, where air friction would coax the item to re-enter the atmosphere. Edde, staying in orbit, would then move on to its next target.
The other methods include nets that would round up wayward items and drag them into the Earth’s atmosphere, where they would harmlessly burn up and firing lasers from the ground to blow things up into safer orbits or into the atmosphere.
Jerome Pearson, the president of Star Technology, says it would take only a few years and a few hundred million dollars for a fleet of Eddes to clean up the near-Earth neighborhood. Others suspect that it would take longer and cost more.
The paper reported that technology is just one hurdle but international politics might be a more serious one.
Space junk, even if it is just junk, still belongs to the nation that put it there. So if the United States tried to lasso part of a spent Russian rocket, Russia would most likely protest, according to the paper . Many nations would certainly worry that a ground-based laser capable of pushing satellites around would also be wielded as a weapon.
“The space junk problem will not be solved unless everyone launching rockets stops adding to it. The United States has largely done that: all new satellites are now accompanied by plans for how to bring them safely out of orbit,” the paper said.