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Space junk is a major problem, and a Swiss satellite hopes to help clean up near-Earth orbit

Swiss researchers plan to launch a janitor satellite that will be able to help reduce the amount of space debris currently orbiting Earth.

Space debris is a mix of decommissioned satellites, rocket stages, and collected junk from the ISS and other missions.

The CleanSpace One, designed and manufactured by the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne, is an $11 million aircraft that will be first used to clean up two Swiss satellites.

"It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation," said Claude Nicollier, astronaut and professor, in a press statement.

It's going to be difficult for CleanSpace One to accomplish its mission, as debris can travel upwards of 17,500 miles per hour. The satellite must enter the appropriate trajectory, secure a hold of the debris, and transport the particles back into the Earth's atmosphere.

If a mistake is made, however, the debris could tear through the satellite, adding thousands more pieces of junk into space.

Swiss space experts hope to launch CleanSpace One within the next five years, and could lead to a fleet of space-cleaning satellites.

Researchers are collecting information about near-Earth space debris by using ground-based radars, manned space missions, and telescopes.

Space junk is a growing problem that researchers are unsure how to solve, with satellites and aircraft at risk when entering orbit. In 2009, NASA monitored space debris and the orbiting junk forced astronauts aboard the International Space Station to enter escape pods in case of impact.

The growing amount of debris also poses a risk to people on Earth, with satellite debris also crashing back to Earth on a more frequent basis.

The Johnson Space Center hosts the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, which is responsible for studying space debris. Working with international space experts, NASA hopes to be able to monitor debris and avoid future space safety problems.

Source: PhysOrg



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Seems simple to me
By FITCamaro on 2/16/2012 9:46:10 AM , Rating: 3
Launch a giant piece of silly putty into space (or several). Then let all the small debris hit it and stick to it. Then go collect them or "push" the back into the atmosphere where they'll burn up. :)




RE: Seems simple to me
By Sazar on 2/16/2012 9:49:22 AM , Rating: 4
I think it would be a lot cheaper to train a shark with a friggin laser beam attached to it's forehead, stick it into an aqua-naut suit and have it zip around in space zapping debris.

Clearly a space-bound octopus would do a better job due to it's extra appendages, but this is my proposal dangit and I say shark.


RE: Seems simple to me
By Omega215D on 2/16/2012 10:19:06 AM , Rating: 4
I dunno, both are on the endangered species list... it'll take months to clear up all that red tape.

How about some mutated sea bass?


RE: Seems simple to me
By wiz220 on 2/16/2012 10:51:44 AM , Rating: 3
Ill tempered sea bass?


RE: Seems simple to me
By quiksilvr on 2/16/2012 11:12:41 AM , Rating: 3
Absolutely.


RE: Seems simple to me
By TacticalTrading on 2/16/2012 11:25:19 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I think it would be a lot cheaper to train a shark with a friggin laser beam attached to it's forehead, stick it into an aqua-naut suit and have it zip around in space zapping debris.


I think I played that game on my Phone


RE: Seems simple to me
By Omega215D on 2/16/2012 12:46:33 PM , Rating: 3
I personally prefer going up in a little triangle space ship to shoot all the debris and any asteroids that happen to come along.


RE: Seems simple to me
By JediJeb on 2/17/2012 2:04:25 PM , Rating: 2
They had the right idea over 30 years ago, too bad it didn't catch on lol.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077066/

I really liked that show when I was 10.


RE: Seems simple to me
By TSS on 2/17/2012 7:26:07 AM , Rating: 2
Actually this is not a bad idea.

The problem is the debris is moving at a high speed right? Why not build some sort of collection craft made out of memory-shape alloys that regain their shape when heated up?

You collect the debris in earth's shadows. After a couple of impacts you send the debris back to earth to vaporize in the atmosphere, send the craft out of the earth's shadow into the sunlight and let it regain it's shape so it lasts longer.

It's about 121C in the direct sunlight, water boils at 100c. so maybe it's not entirely impossible.


Why not
By Etern205 on 2/16/2012 9:47:02 AM , Rating: 2
How about create a bulldozer satellite and push everything out further. Like sweeping under the rug.
Just don't see it's practical to send the satellite out bring junk back to earth and go back out again.
My 0.02




RE: Why not
By StevoLincolnite on 2/16/2012 10:10:59 AM , Rating: 2
Nah, add more space junk, it should help counteract the effects of "Global warming" by blocking out more of the sun.

With that said... Why not establish a moon base already? They can collect the space junk and use it as materials, It wouldn't just burn up in atmosphere then.


RE: Why not
By Dr of crap on 2/16/2012 10:14:46 AM , Rating: 2
They are bringing it "back to Earth".
They will bring the junk to the point where it will burn up on re-entry to the atmosphere.


RE: Why not
By nafhan on 2/16/2012 10:16:11 AM , Rating: 3
Pushing stuff out into further orbits (or out of orbit completely) takes energy, but bringing it down doesn't.
quote:
Just don't see it's practical to send the satellite out bring junk back to earth and go back out again
The article doesn't go into detail about how this works, but the satellite would probably just need to slow the debris down sufficiently for the debris to drop into the atmosphere by itself - the cleaner satellite wouldn't need to go with it.

It might be more trouble than it's worth, but depending on how they are going about capturing the debris, it seems like the satellite could "steal" momentum from each piece of debris. The debris would then go crashing into the atmosphere and the satellite would use this new "free" momentum to launch itself towards it's next target. Again, the orbital mechanics of that would probably be a nightmare. So...


RE: Why not
By Etsp on 2/16/2012 6:09:40 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Pushing stuff out into further orbits (or out of orbit completely) takes energy, but bringing it down doesn't.
Who was your physics teacher?

They are changing the velocity of the space junk, which takes energy. It takes a lot LESS energy to push it into the atmosphere than it does to go into a wider orbit, but that doesn't mean it's free.


RE: Why not
By nafhan on 2/16/2012 9:56:54 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Who was your physics teacher?
I've never been good with names... Anyway, I feel like that may have been rhetorical.

From the frame of reference of the satellite, which is what I hope we're still discussing, any one of three things could occur when it interacts with another object: it could gain, lose, or (less likely) keep the amount of energy it has. If they plan this satellite's interactions with space debris just right, it may be able to effectively gain energy from every interaction. Thus "bringing it down" doesn't have to take energy FOR THE SATELLITE. I wasn't implying that the energy magically appears from nowhere, it would be conveniently taken from the piece of space debris with which the satellite is interacting.


RE: Why not
By ekv on 2/17/2012 3:00:35 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
If they plan this satellite's interactions with space debris just right, it may be able to effectively gain energy from every interaction.
Planning is all well and good, and extended Traveling Salesman Problems are easily solvable nowadays, however, there is a lot of debris hence I suspect not every interaction can be accounted for.

Beyond that, from the sci-fi I've read it was a continuing theme to say that getting the mass to orbit is the hard part. Transforming it, which is what technology boils down to, merely takes energy. No mere rhetorical statement, since there's a lot of energy in LEO [pardon the imprecise language here].

Collect the garbage so it can be re-used. Besides, if you call it recycling then you have a better advertising angle. Don't forget the live-feed web-cam and maybe a blog / forum (go Drupal!) ....


RE: Why not
By ekv on 2/17/2012 3:02:02 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
If they plan this satellite's interactions with space debris just right, it may be able to effectively gain energy from every interaction.
Planning is all well and good, and extended Traveling Salesman Problems are easily solvable nowadays, however, there is a lot of debris hence I suspect not every interaction can be accounted for.

Beyond that, from the sci-fi I've read it was a continuing theme to say that getting the mass to orbit is the hard part. Transforming it, which is what technology boils down to, merely takes energy. No mere rhetorical statement, since there's a lot of energy in LEO [pardon the imprecise language here].

Collect the garbage so it can be re-used. Besides, if you call it recycling then you have a better advertising angle. Don't forget the live-feed web-cam and maybe a blog / forum (go Drupal!) ....


RE: Why not
By ekv on 2/17/2012 3:03:11 AM , Rating: 2
Double post. Apologies. Server Timed out, WTH?


RE: Why not
By Calin on 2/17/2012 3:51:55 AM , Rating: 2
Stuff on orbit has a velocity of about 8 kilometers a second. You need about 11 kilometers a second to send it away from Earth (escape trajectory).
However, if you manage to bring it down some, even in the very thin atmosphere, it will slow down from air friction. Even the International Space Station is slowed down by air friction, and from time to time is boosted to a higher trajectory.
So, the idea is to instead just slow the junk down a bit and let the atmosphere do the rest of the slowing down. Just as the Space Shuttles were using the atmosphere to slow down from orbital velocity (8 or so kilometers a second) down to landing speed (hundreds of kilometers an hour)


RE: Why not
By ShieTar on 2/16/2012 10:56:20 AM , Rating: 2
The whole point of the "clean-up" is to reduce the number of small, hard to detect, parts floating around on busy orbits.

Just sending these parts of in any direction where it will cross a lot of other orbits is not the best idea.

Also, you have to keep in mind that some of the low earth orbits still feel up to 90% of the earth gravity pull. Getting them down needs much less energy than shooting them all the way up would.


...
By Joz on 2/16/2012 12:53:01 PM , Rating: 3
Put low energy laser on satalite that can be powered by solar energy; or small nuclear reactor.

aim laser at debris, fire laser, change debris trjectory so that it will burn up in the atmosphere.

put bigger laser in bigger satalite, shoot debris on earth...like Iran's nuclear intentions.

profit with Nobel Peace Prize.




RE: ...
By titanmiller on 2/16/2012 7:09:58 PM , Rating: 2
A small 1000W solar array could easily charge a large capacitor bank to power the laser. No need for a "nuclear reactor".


Ground-based lasers?
By Schrag4 on 2/16/2012 12:32:09 PM , Rating: 2
I understand a big problem is very small, hard-to-track parts orbiting. Could intense lasers fired from earth vaporize small parts? Do we lack lasers powerful enough? Does the energy it would take make it not worth it? Or would it simply take too long because tracking is difficult and there are so many little pieces of space junk?

Just curious. Please forgive my ignorance.




RE: Ground-based lasers?
By Keeir on 2/16/2012 2:07:25 PM , Rating: 2
All of the above.

Keep in that "near earth" orbit is a staggering volume of space

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Orbits_around_ea...

Imagine a Laser Capable of hitting the eye of a pidgeon in Paris when aimed from New York.


Megamaid
By CarbonJoe on 2/16/2012 1:16:02 PM , Rating: 2
Sounds like a job for the Megamaid from Spaceballs.

http://thisrecording.com/storage/megamaid-spacebal...




RE: Megamaid
By SilentSin on 2/16/2012 1:17:59 PM , Rating: 2
But imagine the destruction if she turns from suck to blow!


Easy
By x10Unit1 on 2/17/2012 6:34:18 PM , Rating: 2
Easy:

Mega Maid
Operation: Vacuum Suck

/thread




RE: Easy
By JKflipflop98 on 2/22/2012 3:45:49 PM , Rating: 2
There's a problem with MegaMaid. She's gone from suck to blow.

*gasp*


WALL-..
By GuinnessKMF on 2/16/2012 11:50:20 AM , Rating: 2
WALL-LEO

Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Low Earth Orbit class.




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