Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Hubble Repair Mission At Risk

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the someone-take-out-the-space-trash dept.

Space 224

MollyB writes "According to Wired, the recent collision of satellites may put the Atlantis shuttle mission to repair Hubble in the 'unacceptable risk' status: 'The spectacular collision between two satellites on Feb. 10 could make the shuttle mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope too risky to attempt. Before the collision, space junk problems had already upped the Hubble mission's risk of a "catastrophic impact" beyond NASA's usual limits, Nature's Geoff Brumfiel reported today, and now the problem will be worse. Mark Matney, an orbital debris specialist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas told the publication that even before the collision, the risk of an impact was 1 in 185, which was "uncomfortably close to unacceptable levels" and the satellite collision "is only going to add on to that."'"

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

hmm. (5, Interesting)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914255)

we were discussing the debris problem at work over coffee the other day.

we were trying to find solutions to it in our non-expert fashion.

sadly the best we could come up with were:

(1) putting a impact shield around spacecraft - but the kind of impact speeds we are talking about probably makes this uneconomical as the shield would need to be massive.
(2) some kind of automated space cleaner that went around removing debris - but we had no idea how that could possibly work or be designed
(3) vastly improved tracking capabilities so we could avoid the worst areas and steer around them
(4) pre-emptive removal of dead satalites (no, not shooting them down from earth - attaching small moters to send them into the atmosphere) - maybe steering them into a declining orbit as the last thing they do before swithing them off
(5) just abandoning the whole outer space game anyhow and using a vast fiber optic ring on the surface for communication needs

there were probably other ideas that we came up with that I cannot remember, but this might get some comments/advice/derision.

but we all agreed, this problem will only get worse. and choosing different orbit altitudes only delays confronting the issue - but might be cheaper in the short term.

Re:hmm. (5, Insightful)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914313)

putting a impact shield around spacecraft - but the kind of impact speeds we are talking about probably makes this uneconomical as the shield would need to be massive.

The spacecraft would have trouble getting off the ground. That's even worse than uneconomical.

some kind of automated space cleaner that went around removing debris - but we had no idea how that could possibly work or be designed

The problem with this is - if that "cleaner" gets hit by debris, you've just added to the problem instead of reducing it.

pre-emptive removal of dead satalites (no, not shooting them down from earth - attaching small moters to send them into the atmosphere) - maybe steering them into a declining orbit as the last thing they do before swithing them off

That would have been a way to keep the problem in check, and it's being done with some satellites. But usually whoever puts satellites up there is too cheap to worry about disposal, since by the time it becomes a problem, they're most likely not around anymore and don't have to worry. Yay, just let the following generations clean up the crap, just like with everything else.

Goddamn stupid mofo russians fucking up again (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914817)

period

Re:hmm. (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915135)

putting a impact shield around spacecraft - but the kind of impact speeds we are talking about probably makes this uneconomical as the shield would need to be massive.

The spacecraft would have trouble getting off the ground. That's even worse than uneconomical.

Here's a thought. What if each spacecraft did not lug a big old shield up into orbit. What if we build an orbiting "overcoat" which had the necessary shielding and a space inside to accomodate the spacecraft. Then you launch as light as you can and dock with your overcoat. Slip it on, and you are good. Unchecked by launch weight, you could make this overcoat as thick as needed to protect against micrometeorites as well as radiation.

Re:hmm. (1)

Talderas (1212466) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915233)

And how many years will it take to lug the shield up there and build it?

Re:hmm. (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914317)

Automated space cleaner... Perhaps a satellite that's solar powered and uses an electromagnet to repel pieces into the atmosphere? Although I suppose that would push it out of orbit... Maybe if there's enough air it could compress some and then use it as a jet to keep in orbit...

Planetes anyone? One of my favorites.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetes [wikipedia.org]

Re:hmm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914613)

How exactly do expect to repel ferromagnetic materials with an electromagnet?

Re:hmm. (2, Informative)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914671)

Obviously you can't but you can attract them once you have enough bits slow down enough that they will re-enter in a couple of years, ditch them and speed up again. The only problem is the amount of fuel it would take to do this a few times.

Re:hmm. (3, Interesting)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914913)

As opposed to the fuel it's going to take to have the various other functional satellites, shuttles, and the station dodge all the time?

One idea I saw was to use an aerogel, that really sparse foam, to catch things. Well, set them closer to the deorbital path.

The idea is that the foam is so light that the wrench or whatever that hits it doesn't break up, the foam doesn't break up, so there's no additional fragments. Meanwhile, if you've set the orbit up right, the foam slows the debris down a tad, speeding up the time it'll take to hit atmosphere.

Re:hmm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26915163)

Or just launch some bombs and detonate them in orbit. Make sure the blast radius is large enough to either force the surrounding debris along with the debris generated by the bomb out of orbit or into the atmosphere.

Nuke it from the ground. It's the only way to be sure.

Re:hmm. (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915555)

Or just launch some bombs and detonate them in orbit. Make sure the blast radius is large enough to either force the surrounding debris along with the debris generated by the bomb out of orbit or into the atmosphere.

Two points:

1. Blast radii of bombs are small (that includes nuclear ones).

2. Space is big.

Re:hmm. (3, Insightful)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914355)

1) - there is moderately workable impact shielding developed for satellites/space craft which consists of plates separated by gaps which spread out the kinetic energy of debris and has been proven effective against small impacts.

2) "space cleaning" could easily be done by deploying some large engineered dragnet style objects into the path of the debris. Obviously careful engineering would have to be used to assure collisions dont cause pieces to splash from the dragnet, but I think its quite doable.

3) we already track space debris down to very small levels. Currently nasa have maps of these pieces, down to the size of a screw if I remember correctly.

4) this is often done already, at least by government agencies. Private companies are another matter, but i've never heard of a private satellite going completely out of use.

5) we may as well just nuke it all now if we don't establish extra-terrestrial colonies. Colonization of space is the next logical step for a species which develops intelligence, and if we don't continue down that path we are a dead-end branch waiting to be pruned from the tree of life.

Re:hmm. (3, Funny)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914593)

we already track space debris down to very small levels. Currently nasa have maps of these pieces, down to the size of a screw if I remember correctly.

Manually.

Yeah, Michael Bay films are not a good indicator of military capabilities either.

Last paragraph is rubbish (5, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914599)

You don't understand the Theory of Evolution. There is NO "next logical step" for a species which develops intelligence, and there is NO reason why not colonising space makes us a "dead end branch". As the late, great Jay Gould has pointed out, the main form of life on Earth (by biomass and by effect on the planet) is now, and has been for a very long time, bacteria. Bacteria achieve great adaptability without intelligence. If we cannot achieve the same adaptability, then environmental changes may make us extinct. But the test of evolutionary success is simply continued, unthreatened existence, not some hypothetical extension of range. If we "nuke ourselves", we've failed. If we learn to live in our existing environment without making it unusable, and adapt to its changes, we've succeeded. The idea that we must colonise space to validate our existence is a religion, not science.

Before the troll mods start up, please let me say I'm not objecting to exploring the Solar System in the slightest (in fact I think it's far more useful than the LHC). I am pointing out that your justification makes no scientific sense.

Re:Last paragraph is rubbish (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914645)

If we learn to live in our existing environment without making it unusable, and adapt to its changes, we've succeeded.

The current environment is transitory. And eventually over geological time, it will change in a way that cannot be adapted to. Plus, it's worth noting that most species (including humans) that exist now do so precisely because they have repeatedly expanded their range.

Re:Last paragraph is rubbish (4, Insightful)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914819)

Living in better balance with our environment and within our resources will not save us from a space rock or plague, off-world colonies will, and that's my point.

The main evolutionary trait of human beings is technology, and we are in a unique position to do this, which would set us on the road to the eventually disentanglement of our survival with that of one small planet.

If we fail to do this, then a global catastrophe will eventually happen which outstrips our technology and render us extinct.

Except that (4, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914901)

Will the inhabitants of those "off-world colonies" survive? We are far less likely to adapt to their conditions. The change of getting wiped out before sustainability is reached is rather high (look at the history of the colonisation of the Americas). Meanwhile, the amount of energy it takes to put even small payloads into orbit is enormous. We could easily reduce our planet to below sustainability in trying to create colonies, all of which would then fail for lack of resources. We've just done this to our economy by trying to make it expand too fast, so we have a track record.

Research on Earth into dealing with external threats such as infalling asteroids or comets, dealing with diseases, dealing with our own inbuilt tendency to commit genocide, is far cheaper and more likely to pay dividends. Let's protect ourselves from disease and space rocks first, then we will be demonstrating our adaptability and survival skills. Running for the hills is monkey behavior, dealing with the predators may be what made us human in the first place. After all, we could realistically have a basic comet and asteroid shield by 2030.

I repeat: the idea of space colonies is currently not even science fiction, it's religion. Which was my original point.

Re:Last paragraph is rubbish (0, Troll)

Cally (10873) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915013)

Living in better balance with our environment and within our resources will not save us from a space rock or plague, off-world colonies will,

No, it won't, because: physics.

If we fail to do this, then a global catastrophe will eventually happen which outstrips our technology and render us extinct.

Yep. Deal with it.

Re:Last paragraph is rubbish (4, Insightful)

grumbel (592662) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915133)

An earth devastated by an asteroid is still a much more friendly place to live on then either Moon or Mars. Self sustaining off-world colonies won't happen for many many years to come.

Re:Last paragraph is rubbish (1, Insightful)

michrech (468134) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915479)

Especially with *that* attitude!

An earth devastated by an asteroid is still a much more friendly place to live on then either Moon or Mars. Self sustaining off-world colonies won't happen for many many years to come.

Spreading the seeds (5, Insightful)

Cassander (251642) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915191)

The idea that we must colonise space to validate our existence is a religion, not science.

The way I look at it, we are the reproductive system for the entire biosphere. If we don't colonize other planets around different stars (let alone other rocks around this one) then all of Gaia* has failed, not just one little species.

* Please note I do not actually personify "Gaia", I just use it as a convenient and poetic label for the entire interconnected biosphere.

Re:Spreading the seeds (2, Insightful)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915519)

The way I look at it, we are the reproductive system for the entire biosphere.

You know, I think this is a very apt comparison.

Like reproducive organs, especially the testes mammals, we enact extensive changes on the whole planet; not all of which are beneficial. Yet, we're the one big hope for reproduction; so almost ANYTHING is worth it. If we do relocated, odds are we'll take a big chunk of the rest of the biosphere with us.

After that, it breaks down a bit; Gaia is neither male or female. ;)

Re:hmm. (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914727)

For those curious, the shielding in question is a Whipple shield [wikipedia.org] . The idea is similar to gapped armor -- adding some space after the first impact gives the debris / projectile time to break up and spread out, making the next layer's job easier.

Re:hmm. (1)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915375)

Reading the article you linked:

...but also increases the thickness of the spacecraft walls, which is not ideal for fitting spacecraft into launch vehicle fairings.

Did anybody consider developing the Whipple Shield to "expand" on deployment? Store the layers tightly packed, then space the layers apart either mechanically or using some kind of compressed filler-material once the payload is deployed.

The laminated nature of the hull would provide additional benefits to pressurised, manned payloads, since it would provide tougher, lighter shielding and insulation.

Re:hmm. (1)

Cally (10873) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914989)

i've never heard of a private satellite going completely out of use.

Are you kidding? There are hundreds of dead telecom and remote sensing spacecraft in orbit.

Space = vacuum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914395)

(2) ... space cleaner ...

You mean, a vacuum cleaner? Finally, a most appropriate use of the machine!

Re:hmm. (1)

ramul (1103299) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914421)

This probably wouldnt work because not all debris is metal but could you not deflect a lot of it using some very strong magnets placed at either end of the shuttle?

They could pulse on detection of debri with calculated strength to deflect metal debri. Perhaps place the magnets on booms to give distance from the shuttle?

this is an absolute laymen idea but hey, you never know.

Re:hmm. (2, Interesting)

Rollgunner (630808) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914529)

The problem with so many ideas to remove space debris is that most of them seem to add to the problem. Even microscopic particles can do tremendous damage at the velocities concerned.

The best idea I've come up with would be to send a cannister into the path of the debris to be removed at a slightly lower relative velocity. This device would then open, releasing a huge cloud of rapidly expanding resinous foam (think of the canned stuff you use to fill holes in the wall). The debris would then impact and become lodged in the hardened foam. The very large (but very low mass) object could then be caused to burn up in the atmosphere.

Then again, getting the canister up there will, of course, generate *more* debris...

Re:hmm. (1)

mlush (620447) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914533)

(1) putting a impact shield around spacecraft - but the kind of impact speeds we are talking about probably makes this uneconomical as the shield would need to be massive.

It may be possible to make a lightweight space armour There is string vest plate [thisisbristol.co.uk] and Spaced armour [wikipedia.org] which both rely on breaking up the impactor. Send up the armour flat packed erect it on site and perhaps fill the gaps between the plates with some sort of cavity wall insulating foam. I'd guess the plates could be spaced much further apart giving the debris more time to spread out

Granted it would not stop an incoming tool kit, but that it big enough to be spotted and dodged

Re:hmm. (1)

Arthurio (1392181) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914577)

2) It's easy. All we need to do is either invent tractor beam or send a huge automated squirt gun to the orbit that will shoot the debris off the orbit with water :D It might also be possible to disintegrate the debris with an anti-missile laser. Besides what could be 'cooler' than hypersonic, glowing, molten blobs of titanium.

Re:hmm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914859)

so the laser melts the debris; in the absence of gravity it forms an almost perfect sphere and cools down again when the laser has shuts down.
then what?

Re:hmm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914777)

Good Ideas, but I think the efforts of NASA should be focused in this direction.
1. All spaceflight should be robotic (for now) and be missions that improve science and life back on earth.
2. Besides meeting commitments on the I.S.S., All of NASA's money for manned exploration should go towards developing a next generation power reactor that is capabale of getting a ship into orbit from earth. I think projects such as (ITER, the former NCSX reactor, from PPPL, the EMC2 project focusing on a variation of Inertial Electrostatic Confinement the Polywell, invented by the late Robert Bussard, currently funded by the USN, should be the focus of their attention. The reactor could heat water which could be used as the reaction mass on earth to orbit launches. It could then power an electromagnetic shield to deflect charged particles in deep space(doesnt help other particles like neutrons & gamma getting through however). Forgoing human spaceflight for 30 years could save us another 50 of launching using chemicals, and get huge ships into orbit with the power (ie, a directed energy beam) to clean up crap.

Re:hmm. (4, Interesting)

Cally (10873) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914971)

Re (4), deorbiting (or parking) dead satellites - this already happens to some extent, if vehicles are still commandable at EOL and have enough delta-v in the tank to make it to a high parking orbit (or a de-orbit burn), that's usually done. I've also seen tethers mooted as a fuel-free EOL mechanism for deorbit (winch out a 20km cable which drags through the upper atmosphere and burns off enough velocity to make the sc re-enter and burn up.) Problem is that all this costs mass, which means money. There's also the problem that lots of debris isn't under any kind of command (chunks of upper stages, satellites that died in action, dropped screwdrivers, slag from old Iridiums and and so on.)

The space debris problem (4, Insightful)

Cassander (251642) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915149)

(5) just abandoning the whole outer space game anyhow and using a vast fiber optic ring on the surface for communication needs

The real problem here is that we're wasting *vast* amounts of orbital space with competing projects that don't share information with each other. There's more than plenty of room for *one* satellite network. But every little war-happy industrialized nation and every communications company and mapping company, etc., needs their own personal network clogging the sky.

Until we, as a species, get a little better at this "cooperation" thing and stop with the in-fighting, the debris field is just going to get worse and make space exploration difficult. (That might even be a good thing for any neighbors we might have.)

Sadly, I don't foresee this happening any time soon.

Well... I guess we should just stay out of space (0, Troll)

jrationalk (897774) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914267)

Nothing to see here... move along folks...everything is just fine. Believe what you are told on the news. 0x1a dot com

Re:Well... I guess we should just stay out of spac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914379)

I guess you would rather they just believe you and your 9/11 truth bullshit?

Re:Well... I guess we should just stay out of spac (1)

jrationalk (897774) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914399)

Stay anonymous bro.

Re:Well... I guess we should just stay out of spac (1)

doyoulikegoatseeee (930088) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914611)

yeah..because I am probably in on it RIGHT? one of THEM. Just another GATEKEEPER aren't I

Re:Well... I guess we should just stay out of spac (1)

jrationalk (897774) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914669)

"It" wouldn't work if the people weren't so susceptible to shock based mind control. Do you remember the introduction to high school physics [0x1a.com] ?

Ablation Cascade? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914269)

If the debris problem is so bad, wouldn't this end manned spaceflight for NASA completely? How is it a problem for the space shuttle that wouldn't be for another craft? Is the risk so bad that the orbit hubble is in now reserved for unmanned craft?

This sounds like some bullshit internal politics to me and that there is a lot more to the story.

Same orbit? (1)

D4C5CE (578304) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914285)

Is debris from that collision heading even remotely to Hubble's orbit (otherwise, any future manned spaceflight/EVA at its altitude would be precluded by unacceptable risk), or is this just an excuse for putting elsewhere the money and other resources set aside to fly this mission?

Nothing being tracked (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914493)

To the best of the public knowledge (DoD has the best picture of what's out there, and they don't share that publicly), nothing that's being tracked is a threat. The two satellites were, and the cores and fragments visible to amateurs remain, respectably clear of Hubble's orbit.

However, there is some concern that stuff could have been knocked off in other directions, or be big enough to be a concern but still small enough to have sufficiently decayed in orbit to be a risk. From following discussions that have included NASA engineers, it doesn't sound to me like this is realistically expected to affect the decision to fly.

Unless something truly serious and unexpected crops up, the Hubble servicing mission isn't going to be canceled. The only reason it hasn't happened already is the computer fault that led them to delay it while preparing a replacement computer for the mission. It wouldn't save any money, although it would free up one more shuttle flight with minimal cost to re-assign to the ISS. After Griffin reinstated the servicing mission, though, NASA has been pretty consistent in its desire to complete it.

No, it's not the end (2, Informative)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914287)

Firstly, Hubble is working fine. Secondly, FTA "NASA spokeswoman, Beth Dickey, would not specifically comment on whether or not the collision had created elevated risk for the Hubble repair mission.

"What we've told everyone is that there is an elevated risk to virtually any satellite in low-earth orbit," Dickey said. "As far as NASA's assets are concerned, that risk is considered to be very small. I have not seen or heard anything that would lead me to think differently."

Re:No, it's not the end (5, Informative)

FTWinston (1332785) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914309)

Firstly, Hubble is working fine.

Eh, no. Its practically dead. Thats why every delay to this service mission is so critical - if another couple of gyros go, it won't even be able to orient itself well enough to allow the astronauts to get up close. As it is, most of its main instruments are currently out of action.

Re:No, it's not the end (1)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915473)

Rubbish.

Re:No, it's not the end (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26915551)

if another couple of gyros go, it won't even be able to orient itself well enough to allow the astronauts to get up close.

Well, this has happened before with Salyut 7 and Soyuz T-13, when the crew successfully docked with the 'dead' space station.

Maybe this would be more difficult between the suttle and Hubble, but maybe it's not impossible... just too difficult.

Kessler Syndrome (5, Informative)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914291)

It's been mentioned before, but this could be the beginning of kessler syndrome [wikipedia.org] , and worldwide space agencies might need to deploy junk removal solutions.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914753)

What goddamn sci-fi show is it that has mentioned this name recently and made every nerd yell it at the top of their lungs as soon as space junk is mentioned in order to look clever?

Re:Kessler Syndrome (2, Interesting)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914809)

What goddamn sci-fi show is it that has mentioned this name recently and made every nerd yell it at the top of their lungs as soon as space junk is mentioned in order to look clever?

Dunno if you count it as "recent," but (/me shouts:) PLANETES.

Re:Kessler Syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914965)

Umm, Wall-E ?

Hypocracy (5, Insightful)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914305)

They'll send tens of thousands of young men (and women) overseas to be shot at and kill others, but not risk seven lives to fucking further humanity and human knowledge?

I don't get it.

Re:Hypocracy (4, Insightful)

Davemania (580154) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914347)

It's easier to bury dead solider story at back of the newspaper than it is about dead astronauts orbiting around earth.

Re:Hypocracy (2, Funny)

slackbheep (1420367) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914455)

Pine boxes are cheaper, too.

Easier to hide (1)

witherstaff (713820) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915113)

Don't forget that policies are in place to not allow the media to show flag draped caskets [armytimes.com] . Seeing a number of dead soldiers is one thing, actually seeing the body count would be a much stronger reaction.

Can't hide a shuttle loss so well.

Re:Hypocracy (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914467)

NASA doesn't employ as many people as military industrial complex-> Bad public relations are less tolerable as a budget consideration.

Re:Hypocracy (1)

Spasemunki (63473) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914515)

"They'll" send tens of thousands overseas? When last I checked, NASA wasn't really given oversight of troop deployment and declarations of war. NASA knows, however, that the public has a low tolerance for highly visible and spectacular deaths, and that every time such a disaster takes place, the entire manned space program and space flight in general is set back by months or years, and given the budget environment and long-standing criticism of their agency may be threatened entirely.

There are dozens of missions that NASA could carry out that have a lower risk profile. What about this particular one is so significant that it's worth accepting the higher risk?

Re:Hypocracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914853)

an astronaut costs a lot more than a soldier.

Re:Hypocracy (2, Informative)

diskis (221264) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915181)

I have a little feeling that the army is spending more on hardware than NASA.
Space shuttle, 1.7B$ each, 5 pcs built = 8.5B$
B2 bomber, 737M$ each, 20 pcs built = 14.7B$

And at costs like that for hardware, training of astronauts / soldiers is fairly neglible.

No hypocrisy at all (4, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915161)

1. NASA has a limited number of astronauts.

2. NASA has a limited number of shuttles.

3. The public has very little stomach for "yet another NASA accident"

4. There are far too many in Congress who see the NASA manned program as a waste of money (in other words that money could buy pools and libraries named after Congressmen!)

5. Comparing any item to Iraq expenditures does not bolster your argument, if anything a parrot would suffice.

Why not compare it to the fact we are willing to lose nearly FORTY THOUSAND people to vehicle deaths. The number of soldiers we lose in Iraq while deplorable by any count is minuscule compared to any other war of that scale let alone the deaths at home from stuff that should not happen in the first place.

Re:Hypocracy (1)

JasonEngel (757582) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915341)

Dead astronauts usually go hand-in-bodypart with a destroyed spacecraft. Said spacecraft is probably worth billions to build and more billions to maintain and actually use. Those 7 astronauts are probably not exactly cheap, either. There's usually decades of training and education involved for each one of them. I haven't even thought to add in the value of the shuttle's payload if it were lost in the same accident.

Now let's look at those soldiers dying by the tens of thousands in a foreign war. Each soldier is pretty cheap on an individual basis compared to an astronaut. Society hasn't invested that much time, resources, or education on the average soldier compared to an astronaut. Their future value to humanity is also statistically and economically lower than the astronaut. The equipment the average soldier goes to war with is only a few thousands - maybe few tens of thousands - of dollars. Said equipment is typically common stuff easily replaced, as is the solider lost with that equipment. Heck, you could easily give a dead soldier's equipment to a live soldier and save a few dollars.

So, dollar for dollar, you have to lose thousands of soldiers and their equipment to reach the same financial loss as the destruction of a shuttle and it's crew. Looking at the Iraq war, America has lost a paltry 4000+ soldiers spread out over a period of 6 years. Compare that to losing a shuttle, it's crew, and it's payload all in one fast blast, and it becomes easy to see why sending soldiers to die in war is so much easier than risking a shuttle mission to repair Hubble.

My point is more commentary on the state of human affairs; life is only important if there is a significant dollar value attached to it.

Soak up debris? (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914325)

My thought is to fire a sounding rocket directly into the path of the debris. At the peak altitude the rocket explodes, releasing something like strips of foil which will collide with orbiting debris. Given time, it should be possible to clean up these orbits.

Re:Soak up debris? (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914433)

At the peak altitude the rocket explodes, releasing something like strips of foil which will collide with orbiting debris.

And what will this accomplish, apart from making the problem worse by creating even more debris?

Re:Soak up debris? (3, Funny)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914459)

The foil strips will make the sky even more pretty and sparkly, just like pixie dust! *taps wand*

Re:Soak up debris? (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914491)

The objects we want to take out of orbit are in a stable trajectory. If they collide with an object fired directly from the ground they will lose some velocity and move into a lower orbit. Low altitude orbits decay quickly because of drag from the atmosphere so these objects will quickly burn up.

The object you fire from the ground to cause a collision will be shoved sideways a short distance. It can't go into orbit.

Having thought about it for a bit I think the best thing to send up in the sounding rocket is a bottle of liquid nitrogen. It will form an expanding cloud at orbital altitude. Debris which fly through the cloud will lose some speed and their orbits will decay. Sounding rocket firings could be timed to minimise impact on operational spacecraft.

Re:Soak up debris? (1)

deimtee (762122) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915491)

Liquid argon.

Re:Soak up debris? (2, Interesting)

stevelinton (4044) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914465)

I proposed something like this, but using something like snowflakes or small particles of dry ice instead of the foil, but it seems collisions at the speeds involved behave quite oddly and even "soft" targets can shatter pieces of debris into multiple smaller pieces mostly in pretty much the same orbit as the originals.

I wonder if some kind of magnetic drag could be devised? a big hoop of superconducting wire with a current in it that would slow down conducting debris that passed through it, but gently, so as to drop it into a more quickly decaying orbit.

Re:Soak up debris? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914497)

All you really have to do is steal a fraction of the momentum of the orbiting fragment, then it will deorbit. I think pretty much any collision will do that.

Re:Soak up debris? (2, Informative)

stevelinton (4044) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914557)

That's what I thought, but apparently what happens is that the fragment shatters, and most of the pieces carry on at almost the same velocity, while just a few are significantly slowed. Essentially your impactor drills a hole through the fragment almost instantly, slowing down only the material actually excavated from the hole. Later, the shock waves propagate sideways through the fragment, shattering it.

Result, more orbiting fragments (albeit smaller ones).

Re:Soak up debris? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914587)

Result, more orbiting fragments (albeit smaller ones).

If the object you send to collide with the dangerous debris is not in orbit before the collision then it can't be in orbit after the collision. I think a cloud of gas might do the trick, deployed from a sounding rocket, fired straight up from the ground.

Re:Soak up debris? (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914741)

It's an interesting idea. I think the problem is aiming it; it's essentially the same problem as anti-satellite or anti-missile weapons. Unless your sounding rocket debris cloud is unreasonably large, it's very hard to get it in just the right spot.

Re:Soak up debris? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26915409)

"frickin' sharks with frickin' laser "

Clean up debris... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914487)

you just need a big vacuum cleaner...

Four words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914541)

Huge Solar Powered Magnets

Atmosphere burnup on re-entry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914573)

1. Find a way to generate a force that pulls the space junk towards earth's atmosphere, maybe some kind of huge electromagnetic field.
2. Junk enters earth's atmosphere at extremely high velocities, resulting in almost instant burnup.
3. Space junk problem solved, human race saved, fuzzy kittens happy, etc.

You're welcome everyone.

Real issue - Nasa does not want to fix Hubble (2, Insightful)

tg123 (1409503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914589)

I can read between the lines ....

Nasa does not want to fix the Hubble as there budgets have been cut. They want to put the money for fixing the Hubble into something else.

The Hubble is also Obsolete due to new technologies like Adaptive optics that allow ground based telescopes to achieve the same clarity as the Hubble.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_optics [wikipedia.org] http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/astronomy/adaptive_optics991006.html [space.com]

Why spend money and risk peoples lives on technology that is obsolete ?

Re:Real issue - Nasa does not want to fix Hubble (4, Informative)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914767)

The Hubble is also Obsolete due to new technologies like Adaptive optics that allow ground based telescopes to achieve the same clarity as the Hubble.

You can pull as many adaptive whatchamacallits out of the signal processing toolbox, but that doesn't change the simple fact that certain wavelengths will be absorbed by the atmosphere before they even get to your ground-based telescopes.

Re:Real issue - Nasa does not want to fix Hubble (2, Informative)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914835)

You can pull as many adaptive whatchamacallits out of the signal processing toolbox, but that doesn't change the simple fact that certain wavelengths will be absorbed by the atmosphere before they even get to your ground-based telescopes.

Certainly true, which is part of the reason newer space scopes focus on things like X ray or IR observation, rather than visible wavelengths. But, even at visible wavelengths, a space telescope can do some things a ground scope can't, like take a continuous week long exposure. A ground based scope can compensate somewhat with a bigger mirror, and thus accomplish a similar shot in a shorter exposure, but it just can't manage that kind of continuous observation. (And, to take a week long exposure with a ground based scope, you'd basically need three weeks worth of observation time, because you can't see that star you want during the day, or when it is obscured by trees near the horizon, etc.

Re:Real issue - Nasa does not want to fix Hubble (1)

tg123 (1409503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914997)

................ at visible wavelengths, a space telescope can do some things a ground scope can't, like take a continuous week long exposure. A ground based scope can compensate somewhat with a bigger mirror, and thus accomplish a similar shot in a shorter exposure, but it just can't manage that kind of continuous observation. (And, to take a week long exposure with a ground based scope, you'd basically need three weeks worth of observation time, because you can't see that star you want during the day, or when it is obscured by trees near the horizon, etc.

Okay maybe the word obsolete is a bit harsh .....

to me the questions Nasa should be asking are -

How do we get the most out for our dollar ?

i.e. - Can the goal be achieved with less money on the ground ?

Is the risk of sending people to repair the hubble worth it ?

Re:Real issue - Nasa does not want to fix Hubble (2, Informative)

Shag (3737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915079)

Just as a data point, it cost something like a billion (1990) dollars to put Hubble into orbit, and over the life of the program, I think they're talking something like 6 billion total (including salaries for the folks who operate it and every other conceivable expense).

Hubble's primary mirror is about 2.4 meters. There's currently a proposed project to build a thirty-meter terrestrial telescope, either in Hawaii or Chile, for about $1 billion.

Launch costs are a b*tch, yes.

Other Systems at risk? (1)

yogibaer (757010) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914597)

The risk to Atlantis is of course serious enough, but what about the risk to Hubble itself or to other systems (communication satellites, GPS etc.)? This can't be easily replaced and a "white spot" in GPS coverage e.g. in major shipping lane would be catastrophic. Does anyone know about scenarios calculations for this?

A possible shield (2, Interesting)

Genda (560240) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914655)

Since the trajectories of the debris will lie in a relatively narrow plane, it should be possible to device a barrier made of a plastic bag, shaped like a tube (open at both ends perpendicular to the plane of flying debris), and when inflated would make a tube like structure 6 inches thick and just slightly longer than the space shuttle and the Hubble combined. Fill the plastic cylinder full of water. The water freezes harder than steel. You now have an excellent barrier from the debris cloud while you work on Hubble. Now lift Hubble up a few thousand miles to get it out of harms way.

After, you can move water to the ISS for safe keeping. I'm guessing they can put an extra couple thousand gallons to use for anything from experimentation and raising space crops to providing water for the first space hotel. Not to mention if that water has minerals in it, it can be used for everything from dietary supplementation to an emergency shield against high energy solar emissions.

Re:A possible shield (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914857)

You can replace the tube with a wall; the debris is coming from a known direction. Doing that produces a wall roughly 125 feet by 60 feet by 6 inches. That's around 100,000 kg. The Shuttle can lift just shy of a quarter of that to low Earth orbit. Also, hypervelocity collisions don't behave like you think they do -- at the least you'd need a spall shield inside the ice shield; you probably need far more than that.

Sorry, the brute force approach to impact shielding just doesn't work when random bits of plumbing are moving at speeds comparable to or faster than kinetic anti-tank rounds. You need a more sophisticated approach like a Whipple shield [wikipedia.org] , and for something the size of the Shuttle even that will be quite heavy.

Re:A possible shield (1)

Zhiroc (909773) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914925)

"Since the trajectories of the debris will lie in a relatively narrow plane"... I'm not sure this is true. This diagram [nasa.gov] from NASA suggests the cloud is moving in all directions. Remember, only the geo-stationary satellites are required to have equatorial orbits. Ground-sensing ones need to have inclined orbits, and some are even polar (particularly military).

Lasers? (1)

mhalagan (1078415) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914687)

I don't know the level of accuracy which we can track all the debris, or the accuracy which we could fire a laser at a target moving that fast. Would it be possible for us to use lasers to knock the debris out of earth's orbit?

How is this going to affect The Hubble? (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914803)

I mean 2 objects collided in a 400Km orbit the Hubble orbits at 750km any debris will not have picked up enough velocity to get anywhere near the Hubble. The only danger to the space shuttle is going up there and coming back. Bearing in mind the impact resulted in 2 clouds of debris both of which have the same basic orbital dynamics as the original satelites i.e. we know where they are so fly the f*** around them

Re:How is this going to affect The Hubble? (2, Informative)

Zhiroc (909773) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914975)

The collision happened at almost a right angle (see this diagram [nasa.gov] ). As I understand it, the two satellites basically exploded into debris. While the center of mass of the cloud is mostly following a new trajectory based on the previous orbits, this cloud is probably expanding quickly in many directions. Many pieces were probably kicked out of the mostly circular orbits into highly elliptical ones, and therefore, could have apogees much higher than their original orbit.

Re:How is this going to affect The Hubble? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26915003)

Get you facts strait, the collision happened at 789 km not 400 km.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_satellite_collision

Hubble flies at around 559 km.

The debris will start to spread out and decay in the next few months. So some of it it might end up at altitudes comparable to Hubble's

Re:How is this going to affect The Hubble? (1)

daemonburrito (1026186) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915171)

As sibling comment says, it was 789km.

A 950kg object struck a 560kg object at 11.7km/s (see hypervelocity [wikipedia.org] ). All the pieces have new orbits.

Here's some pretty pretty animation [universetoday.com] .

Surely ? (1)

daveime (1253762) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914847)

Surely now that the two satellites have collided and fallen into Siberia, there are two LESS pieces of junk floating around in the atmosphere ?

Wouldn't that make the risk of collision with the Hubble LESS likely ?

Re:Surely ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914929)

The satellites have collided above Siberia. They did not fall.
A collision between 2 satellites creates 2 clouds of several thousand pieces in orbit.

So many more pieces in far less well known orbits adds up to greater collision-risk for Hubble

Re:Surely ? (1)

daveime (1253762) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914947)

Finally, I get to say it :-)

Whoooooosh

Superman (1)

Grapedrink (1298113) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914983)

The real scape goat here is superman. If only superman would stop putting all those missiles in the way, we would not have this problem. And don't get me started about all those chunks of his tacky colored planet. Always blaming general zod, some sort of cosmic event, or something and never taking real responsibility. Don't litter.

Anyway, I think it's time we ask him to clean his room so to speak. If he can't do it, I guess plan b is some sort of friggin gundam laser.

simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26915017)

This is so simple to solve, you just need to send a ship up there with a projectile weapon to shoot the big pieces into smaller pieces and then shoot those pieces into even smaller pieces then when you shoot those they completely disappear! Just watch out for the UFO because it shoots back.

Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26915023)

Just nuke the orbit clean.

freeman in space with gravity gun (1)

Caue (909322) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915031)

Just give him the gravity gun and let him do the job, while alyx kills those damn black headcrabs.

I hate those fuckers. That screech they do before attacking scares the living shit out of me.

Orbital debris specialist (1)

tjinkerson (454638) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915103)

I like the idea of someone going in to the space industry and ending up as the orbital debris specialist. It's kind of what happened to my career!

Solution? (1)

Gunnut1124 (961311) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915119)

Why not launch a mass of adhesive into the old satellite's orbit? I'm thinking something like rubber cement for space.

The better part of the debris field is along the same orbital corridor, so the orbit of the cleanup "goo ball" (or whatever you want to call it) could be made to cover the better part of that corridor over and over...

I recognize that it'd be expensive, and that the maths behind orbit-after-impact would be tough, but it seems that if you are going relatively the same speed and direction as the original satellites, (so you'd need two "goo balls") you'd only have impacts with the forces imparted during the original collision, not the km/sec velocities from crossing orbits.

Also, the idea of goo balls being used to clean up space is my IP and I hereby demand compensation if said idea is ever used...

We have to stop... (1)

csoto (220540) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915189)

Megatron and his dastardly Decepticons!

Why ? (4, Informative)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 5 years ago | (#26915539)

Take a look at this image [universetoday.com] and tell me the problem is really that much worse.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?