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Post by falkor » Wed Aug 10, 2011 6:22 pm

By Jason Palmer, Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Scientists have proposed a viable solution to the growing problem of space junk.
The idea involves launching a satellite to rendezvous with the largest space debris, such as spent rocket bodies.

The satellite would then affix a propellant kit, driving the debris to its doom in the Earth's atmosphere.

The authors claim the scheme, in the journal Acta Astronautica, could inexpensively remove five to 10 such objects per year of operation.

The scope of the problem is enormous; more than 17,000 objects of a size greater than 10cm reside in low-Earth orbit. But the greater problem on the horizon is that each of the largest of these represents the potential to create thousands more.

Image low earth orbit debris
"In our opinion the problem is very challenging and it's quite urgent as well," said Marco Castronuovo, the Italian Space Agency researcher who authored the paper.

"The time to act is now; as we go farther in time we will need to remove more and more fragments," he told BBC News.

In 2007, China demonstrated an anti-satellite system, destroying one of its own defunct satellites and creating 2,000 extra bits of debris in the process. More recently, a collision between US and Russian satellites created even more.

What is feared is a kind of chain reaction, called the Kessler syndrome after the Nasa scientist who first described it in 1978, in which fragments hit other fragments which in turn hit more, creating a cloud of debris that will make vast swathes of low-Earth orbit completely unusable.

The debris presents a risk not only to other man-made satellites in orbit, but occasionally also to the International Space Station and manned space missions.

Space politics

The new research identifies more than 60 objects at a height of about 850km, and two thirds of those weigh more than three tonnes each - many moving near a speed of 7.5km/s. Most of these largest threats are spent rocket bodies, and it is there that

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