DailyDirt: Who's Going To Clean Up All The Space Junk?

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Putting satellites and spacecraft into low earth orbit is getting easier and less expensive all the time, but that also means we're possibly creating even more orbiting space junk around our planet -- without any way to remove this garbage. Man-made space debris is already a problem, and as we shoot more stuff up into space, it could become an even bigger problem. There are at least a few folks who are concerned about space pollution, but there aren't that many workable solutions (yet). If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2012 @ 5:19pm

    On 3, instead of adding more debris via tungsten, could they use HAARP to push the ionosphere out so that the junk burns up in the upper atmosphere? At least it could get the low hanging [junk].

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    abc gum, 2 Jul 2012 @ 5:53pm

    There have been a few ideas on how to deal with the problem but very little funding. I ran across this the other day.

    Looks cool, but it doesn't seem to be a long term solution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Scott Gardner (profile), 2 Jul 2012 @ 6:01pm

    It's not entirely true that there's "no way to remove this garbage". Not every satellite that goes into orbit is destined to become space junk occupying a desirable orbital slot.

    If a satellite still has fuel left at the end of its service life, it can be slowed down in a controlled manner so that it de-orbits at the time and place of our choosing. Likewise, satellites up in geosynchronous orbits can have their orbits adjusted to move them even further outward into a super-synchronous "graveyard" orbit, where there aren't any operational satellites and collisions aren't a problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 2 Jul 2012 @ 6:16pm


    Aerogel seems to be good at mopping up small, high-speed particles. I wonder how expensive it is to make? And how thick it needs to be to be effective? Could we make a kilometre-wide sheet and just leave it in a suitable orbit for a few years—would that help clean things up?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2012 @ 6:37pm

    DARPA is working on a project called Phoenix which aims to create new satellites that can cannibalize older satellites in orbit for parts.
    Why would you make a project like that and not call it "Nomad"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2012 @ 9:09pm

    I have an idea, make a Space Debris Section on the ISS e and then make a ship (model DS-12) called "Toy Box" and let it's crew do the work of salvaging or sendind the trash back to earth to be burned on the reentry.

    If got the reference, +10 000 internets for you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 2 Jul 2012 @ 9:58pm

    deploying 40 tons of man-made tungsten dust,

    Errr. So what stops this from hitting all the satellites and stuff that we want to keep working? Being effectively sandblasted in space sounds like a bad thing for delicate antenna and other sensitive instruments.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    jakerome (profile), 2 Jul 2012 @ 11:55pm

    Space budgets...

    aren't like normal budgets. $80 million (40 tons at $1000/pound) is cheap, really, and pays off by avoiding even one lost satellite. The downside is that EVERY low-earth satellite would be slowed by this debris, leading to shorter lifespans for all low earth satellites. That's because fuel is needed to keep the satellite from slowing too much, and running out of fuel is often the life-limiting factor for satellites. It might be interesting as a 1-off, since there's tons (literally) of uncontrolled space debris largely from the early years of space programs when there was less concern about junk.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Michael Ho (profile), 3 Jul 2012 @ 12:00am


    I think the idea is that the tungsten dust wouldn't have enough momentum to slow down large, intact satellites. But the dust would have a significant effect on smaller pieces of debris.

    Getting the dust in the right orbit is obviously important -- and presumably no one would add the dust in the path of a super-sensitive satellite... (or maybe they would if it was an effective anti-satellite weapon).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    jakerome (profile), 3 Jul 2012 @ 12:19am

    Re: Re:

    Not quite. It will slow down everything. I suppose the likelihood of a collision with the dust (LoC) would vary in in proportion (C) to some characteristic length (D). My guess is:

    D^2 < C*LoC

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    abc gum, 3 Jul 2012 @ 5:18am


    De-orbit is a viable solution for operational satellites, although it is not always employed or even available as an option when a satellite is at or near end of life.

    Russian and US satellites collide

    Short of escape velocity, increasing the orbit is not a long term solution as the orbit will decay.

    Proper procedures for future operations would be a step in the right direction, however there is still a lot of junk in orbit which will cause problems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    jakerome (profile), 3 Jul 2012 @ 9:57am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Techdirt ate the rest of my post! Regardless, while the collisions with smaller debris may occur with a higher frequency than more massive objects on a per gram basis, all objects will be effected. But if it knocks down debris & satellites in 20 years instead of 100, that may be a very sensible solution to clearing lower earth orbit with minimal impact on operations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jul 2012 @ 5:02pm

    Who's going to clean up all the space junk?

    Commander Quark and the valiant crew of his United Galaxy Sanitation Patrol ship, that's who!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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