6 Ways to Clean Up Space

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A fascinating article in this month's Wired magazine says we're not only screwing up our own environment, we're also polluting space (big surprise, right?). Apparently there's so much garbage (some 15,000 pieces of debris) stuck in Earth's orbit that some Scientists think future space travel might be a problem if something isn't done about it soon. According to Wired, there are 6 ways to clean up the mess, which I'll reprint after the jump. But seeing as you all always have such amazing ideas, I thought it would be fun to see what you come up with? Got a better idea about how to collect a 10-ton rocket stage? Calling all back-seat rocket scientists...

6 Ways to Clean Up Space

1. Aerogel
NASA already uses this superlight, polystyrene-like material to capture space dust for study. So, some scientists suggest, why not send massive, multipaned panels of aerogel into orbit to accumulate smaller pieces of space waste like bugs on a windshield? Once saturated with crap, the swaths of goo could be rocketed into the atmosphere.

2. Lasers
Orbiting light cannons are possible but probably decades off (plus, there are diplomatic concerns). But scientists offer as a viable option ground-based lasers to disrupt the orbit of errant objects, causing them to plummet. Targeting would be handled by new supersensitive radar capable of tracking orbiting debris as small as 1 centimeter in diameter.

3. Collector Barge
Engineers at the Uni versity of Arizona propose that an unmanned barge use radar and cameras to home in on objects, then deploy robot arms to snatch them up. Once clutched, items could be decimated by gold-plated mirrors that focus sunlight. Unless, that is, the scraps are shiny, in which case they would be added to the reflective array.

4. Nets A system called Grasp (grapple, retrieve, and secure payload) would use a large, tightly meshed net strung between long, inflatable booms to ensnare objects. According to aerospace firm TUI, which is testing the system, a fleet of GRASP-equipped micro-satellites could fly into new debris clouds and trap the rubble before it wreaks additional havoc.

5. Foam
The fastest-growing category of debris is the small stuff — paint flecks, titanium bits, and other artifacts from collisions or explosions of large objects (such as rocket stages). NASA says a massive panel of highly porous foam (think Nerf football) could be placed in the path of a debris field. Junk passing through would quickly decelerate and fall to Earth.

6. Tethers
Tethers of copper and other highly conductive materials could be installed on outgoing satellites or attached to older ones by delivery vehicles. Once unfurled, TUI's theory goes, they would react with Earth's electromagnetic field and become a sort of super conductive drag anchor, slowing an object until gravity pulled it into the inferno of reentry.

May 9, 2007 - 3:38am
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