We all imagine outer space to be a desolate, empty place, but it’s not. There are millions of pieces of man-made debris floating out there. It is estimated that there are over 21,000 pieces of space trash larger than 4 inches, and half a million bits of junk between 10 and 100 cetimeters. When one piece collides with another, even more debris is released.
An international team of researchers led by Japan’s Riken research institute has come up with a unique idea to combat the increasingly dense layer of dead satellites and miscellaneous space debris. They are proposing to blast an estimated 3,000 tons of space junk out of orbit with a fiber optic laser that would be mounted on the International Space Station.
The space debris story in 2013:
It is a relatively simple plan; the team would first have to adapt the EUSO’s (Extreme Universe Space Observatory) existing infra-red telescope to be able track chunks of space trash moving at very high speeds. They then propose to employ a fiber optic CAN laser, which was formerly used in powering particle accelerators, to fire upon the object until its orbit has changed and the junk burns up during re-entry to the Earth.
The researchers have estimated that the combined system could effectively find particles as small as 10 cm. in diameter. The Riken team recently has published its initial plan in the journal Acta Astronautica. They hope to install a small, proof-of-concept system aboard the ISS using an 8-inch telescope and 100 strand laser.
5 strange ways to clean up our space junk:
“If that goes well,” Riken team leader Toshikazu Ebisuzaki said in a statement, “we plan to install a full-scale version on the ISS, incorporating a three-meter telescope and a laser with 10,000 fibers, giving it the ability to de-orbit debris with a range of approximately 10 kilometers. Looking further to the future, we could create a free-flyer mission and put it into a polar orbit at an altitude near 800 kilometers, where the greatest concentration of debris is found,” wrote Engadet.
We are really good at leaving a mark wherever we go; at least there are some who are trying to clean up the mess.