Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NASA wants to blast space junk with lasers!

I'm not sure if this is a plot to an Atari 2600 video game or, like, my personal dream of shooting stuff in space with lasers come true, but a research team thinks they've solved the space junk problem. BLAST IT WITH LASERS!!!

First, the problem: space junk is accumulating at an alarming rate. Beside the risk of falling debris, it's downright deadly for anyone operating/working in space, as well as potentially catastrophic for orbiting satellites.

Wired has some details:
Simply keeping new fragments from forming can make a big difference for orbital safety, Levit said. Because objects with more surface area feel more drag, the atmosphere pulls down the lightest, flattest fragments of space junk first. When big pieces of debris break up into smaller ones, the pieces become harder and harder to remove.

Worse, the pieces left behind are often the most dangerous: small, dense things like bolts.

“If one collides with a satellite or another piece of debris at the not-unreasonable relative velocity of, say 5,000 miles per second, it will blow it to smithereens,” Levit said.
Sounds completely logical, right? "So gentlemen, how do we propose to solve the alarmingly massive accumulation of orbital detritus problem?  BLAST IT WITH LASERS!!11!!"
In the new study, the researchers suggest focusing a mid-powered laser through a telescope to shine on pieces of orbital debris that look like they’re on a collision course. Each photon of laser light carries a tiny amount of momentum. Together, all the photons in the beam can nudge an object in space and slow it down by about 0.04 inches per second.

Shining the laser on bits of space litter for an hour or two a day should be enough to move the whole object by about 650 feet per day, the researchers show. That might not be enough to pull the object out of orbit altogether, but preliminary simulations suggest it could be enough to avoid more than half of all debris collisions.
That sounds reasonable to me! Where do I sign up to be a space junk blasting jockey?  (Oh, I'm so writing up a new skill-set for X-plorers!)

SERIOUSLY. The chances of any of us being an astronaut are 1,589, 292, 874 to 1, so we they might as well let us disintegrate detritus in low orbit.



  1. looks like boeing is already on board


    a solution to every problem!