Lasers to clean up space junk

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trash along roadways can be seen as a minor problem when you consider the trash floating around our planet.
Decades of sending rockets and shuttles loaded with satellites, telescopes and other space exploring hardware has polluted the area of low Earth orbit.
Several times in the past several years the International Space Station was forced to move their orbit ever so slightly to avoid a possible collision with some of this trash, consisting of old satellites, rocket components and other debris.
So, if we’re having a hard enough time keeping roads, creeks and most importantly our ocean clean of trash, how exactly is the human race supposed to clean space? Sharks with laser beams attached to their heads just like in the movie Austin Powers?
Individuals at Japan’s Riken Institute have a better idea; a laser mounted to a telescope onboard the ISS.
In theory they plan to use this laser to heat a portion of the debris, causing it to decelerate and enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Their thought is that as the debris returns to the surface, it will burn up.
I hope they are taking into consideration that not all debris burns up as it reenters, especially the larger pieces.
But, something has to be done. Many of those pieces of debris are traveling at speeds capable of puncturing the space station, or an astronaut’s suit. While technology has advanced at leaps and bounds, we still don’t have force fields.
The major problem I see with the plan is that as this debris heads back to the surface, portions of the large pieces could add to the litter problem in the oceans and on land.
Short of sending the debris into the sun I can’t come up with a better method to clear the debris humans send up into orbit with each launch.

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