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Cleaning the orbit: Five ways to get rid of space debris

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Space debris or space junk or orbital debris is used to refer to those objects that are present in orbit around Earth. These useless materials can be anything from spent rocket stages, defunct satellites to substances which come out of rockets and satellites due to explosion and collision. The debris can prove dangerous for spacecrafts because they often block the trajectories of newer objects. Here below are the five ways to get rid of space debris:

1. DARPA invests in giant space nets to catch trash

Space Debris Removal pod

The President of Star Inc, Jerome Pearson, has come up with an idea called “a space garbage truck”, which can be used to remove space debris. He presented the idea during the 2010 Space Elevator conference. Pearson proposed that EDDE vehicle equipped around 200 butterflies like nets can be used to collect debris from the low-earth orbit. He suggested that in around 7 years, 12 EDDE vehicles would be able to clean the LEO by capturing all 2,465 identified objects. He said that the vehicle can be used to remove debris weighing more than 2 kilograms. After capturing the debris, the EDDE can throw the garbage directly into South Pacific. It can also deliver the debris captured from the LEO near the Earth where it will not block the trajectories of other spacecrafts and will decay with the passage of time.

2. Cleaning up space junk by adding dust

Cleaning up space junk

According to Garudas Ganguli of the Naval Research Laboratory, the space junk can be reduced by sending small pieces of dust into orbit. He said that the dust needs to collide with the debris and that’s why it should be sent in the opposite direction to the debris. When the dust will collide with the debris, it will bounce of it or vaporize it. This will cause the debris to lose energy, making it to fall to a lower orbit. The dust will also come down due to lower orbit because of the drag that it will feel due to its small size. The fall of debris and dust will make free space in that orbit. The dust and debris will eventually arrive in the lower orbit and here they will not cause any problem because the satellites do not use the lower orbit.

3. Ground-based laser cannon to turn space debris into self-powered flaming de-orbiting rockets

Ground-Based Laser Cannon

In this technique, we can use a powerful laser cannon, which is ground-based, to remove space debris present in the low earth orbit. The laser pulses fired from the ground-based cannon would lead to the emanation of small plasma jet emanating the debris present in the orbit and the debris will start turning into own laser-powered rocket and would eventually would remove itself from orbit. This technique was put forward in 2011. The authors of the paper claim that a 33-foot telescope can be used a laser cannon. The authors noted that the debris should be targeted carefully so that they land in the Pacific Ocean and do not cause any damage on earth.

4. Russia investing $2 billion in space debris removal

Space Debris Removal pod

Russian space corporation Energia is planning to invest $2 billion in order to remove space debris. The plan is to build a “pod” that will be used to remove the garbage present in lower orbit of the earth. The pod will be able to run for around 15 years using a nuclear power core and it will use it time in space to remove defunct satellites out of orbit so that they can either land in oceans or burn in the space itself. It is expected that the construction of this pod will get over by 2020 and it will start its mission by 2023. Russian scientists are hopeful that this especially designed pod would be able to remove around 600 defunct satellites in 10 years.

5. Orbital debris removal satellite: Clean-mE


The Space Center EPFL is set to design a nanosatellite with dimensions of 30 x 30 x 30 cm, which will be used to remove space debris from the lower orbit of the earth. This nanosatellite will use advanced technologies in order to complete its task successfully. The project is aptly named CleanMe project.

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