A new plan for knocking out space debris

An international team of scientists has been talking trash to each other recently – but not in the way you might think.

Space debris poses a major problem in space development – there is 3,000 tonnes of it orbiting the Earth, more than twice as much now as there was 15 years ago.

Travelling at speeds of up to about 28,100 km/h, the most dangerous are bullet-sized pieces of rubbish that can cause serious damage to ISS and functioning satellites.

So a group of scientists have proposed a new plan to zap the rubbish right out of the sky.

The proposal, published in Acta Astronautica, differs from conventional approaches focusing on ground-based solutions. Instead, it suggests targeting the trash from the International Space Station (ISS) by combining the abilities of the EUSO telescope, a super-wide field-of-view instrument developed by RIKEN, with the CAN laser, a recently developed high-efficiency laser system.

The combined capabilities of the instruments could track down and deorbit the most dangerous space debris, which is around the size of one centimeter and produced by collisions of discarded satellites and rocket parts.

Once the space junk is detected, the laser will zap the debris forcing a change in trajectory of the rubbish back into the Earth's atmosphere where it is incinerated.

If all goes well, a full-scale version of the system will be installed on the ISS.

“We believe that this dedicated system could remove most of the centimeter-sized debris within five years of operation,” says team leader Toshikazu Ebisuzaki of Japan's RIKEN research institute.

  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0094576515000867
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