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Using Lasers and Water Guns To Clean Space Debris

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the super-soaker-one-million dept.

Space 267

WSJdpatton writes "The collision between two satellites last month has renewed interest in some ideas for cleaning up the cloud of debris circling the earth. Some of the plans being considered: Using aging rockets loaded with water to dislodge the debris from orbit so it will burn up in the atmosphere; junk-zapping lasers; and garbage-collecting rockets."

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The Year of Linux on the Desktop? Never. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27150621)

Linux is for self-obsessed computer nerds who don't mind using sub-par software as long as it is free and inflates their already oversized egos.

If your ego is as big as your waist line, and your waist line is huge, Linux may be for you.

Otherwise you are better off sticking with a real OS.

OS/400? VMS? TSO/ISPF? UNIX? (3, Funny)

mmell (832646) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150753)

Of course, you'll need real hardware to go with that.

What an unfortunate name... (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150629)

Poor Jim.

The images remind me of Wall-E.

That's not a good thing.

Water is heavy (4, Insightful)

kcbanner (929309) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150645)

Wouldn't it be extremely expensive to send large quantities of water into orbit (also, our water supply is limited we can't be throwing it into space!)?

Re:Water is heavy (5, Insightful)

Spazztastic (814296) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150683)

Wouldn't it be extremely expensive to send large quantities of water into orbit (also, our water supply is limited we can't be throwing it into space!)?

But it rains! The water will come right back down eventually!

Don't question me. My logic is flawless.

Re:Water is heavy (4, Funny)

KlomDark (6370) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150713)

Damn! Shut up already! The average moron will totally believe your rain concept.

Re:Water is heavy (5, Insightful)

Spazztastic (814296) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151047)

Damn! Shut up already! The average moron will totally believe your rain concept.

Apparently they do, I just was modded insightful.

Re:Water is heavy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151397)

Actually, it is likely that a lot of the water will come back to earth. In a LARGE number of years. The reason is that it will be used in LEO, and will have a relatively slow speed. IOW, it WILL come back slowly to earth.

Re:Water is heavy (2, Funny)

Spazztastic (814296) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151505)

Actually, it is likely that a lot of the water will come back to earth. In a LARGE number of years. The reason is that it will be used in LEO, and will have a relatively slow speed. IOW, it WILL come back slowly to earth.

Quiet, you. You're bringing logic to this conversation.

Re:Water is heavy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151971)

Actually, it is likely that a lot of the water will come back to earth. In a LARGE number of years. The reason is that it will be used in LEO, and will have a relatively slow speed. IOW, it WILL come back slowly to earth.

The same could be said of all the debris, but we want it shifted all the same.

Re:Water is heavy (3, Insightful)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150803)

Fine, use a powder made from AOL trial CDs. That's a limitless resource.

Re:Water is heavy (1)

kjb542 (1411783) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151317)

You're right... you know what else is expensive? Disposing of terrestrial waste... and come to think of it, making cars more fuel efficient is also pricey... to hell with nature, who's the boss around here?

Re:Water is heavy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151347)

(also, our water supply is limited we can't be throwing it into space!)?

70% of the earth is covered by water. TFA didn't say blast clean drinking water into space.

It's still an idiotic idea to blast water into space, just saying the resource is plentiful.

Re:Water is heavy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27152281)

to hell all the concept about surface/volume ratios

Re:Water is heavy (3, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151407)

Our water supply is not "limited" in any meaningful sense of the word, given the state of modern technology and engineering. All that Man has wrought pales in comparison to the vastness of the oceans.

Now, our fresh-drinkable-water supplies in places that they can be effectively used for agriculture, industry, or residential populated areas, sure, that's an entirely different story altogether.

Re:Water is heavy (5, Interesting)

JumboMessiah (316083) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152311)

True, most only really think of oil as being the next big thing to cause mass hysteria, but few realize that potable water is a dwindling resource in certain regions. Even the giant Ogallala [waterencyclopedia.com] aquifer in the central United States is showing increased rate of depletion (not to mention pollution).

There are a few [amazon.com] books [amazon.com] on the subject.

Re:Water is heavy (5, Funny)

u38cg (607297) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151439)

More to the point, whoever proposed this idea seems to be completely unaware of the workings of orbital mechanics. Clue: the stuff is already falling. The problem is it keeps missing.

Re:Water is heavy (1, Insightful)

f0dder (570496) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151467)

Won't the water just freeze and add to the debris problem?

Re:Water is heavy (2, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152173)

It will freeze, but sublimation will take care of the problem.

Re:Water is heavy (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152335)

Well, one idea is just freeze then on a big, thick ice "shield". Is like fire a gun on a big ice block

Re:Water is heavy (1)

BlackSash (1420967) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151479)

Water is heavy indeed, but then you don't need a lot of it to get the desired effect... There's 3 possible ways water can react when exposed to the low-pressure, cold emptuness of space: it can either)

Vaporize instantly, basically turning it into a could of steam which would then freeze immediately and have enough mass to push small objects or,
turn into a lump, or several lumps, due to the cold freezing the water almost instantly.

Now these effects could happen both, to some degree, but I expect that the water will at least *partially* vaporize. That means that basically all you have to do is send a rocket up with say, 10 liters of water (10kg, 20lb) into high enough orbit to be above the debris field, and then expel it from the rocket *towards* the planet. The water will turn into a cloud of ice crystals, the great majority of which will be moving towards the earth, pulling along most of the minuscule particles and nudging the larger ones perhaps just enough to send them into a lower orbit, or destabilize them enough so they disintegrate further and will end up dragged along inside the frozen cloud like the smallest particles.

Theoretically this is a good idea, but it hinges on some assumptions that I have made about both how water behaves in a -272C vacuum, and the fact that it is possible to direct it sufficiently to get the optimum effect. Spread it too wide and the cloud will not be 'solid' enough to do anything; spread it too thin and you're basically wasting a couple of million by not picking up enough debris.

It's a tough one, for sure.

(IANAE, IANAS and all that, of course)

Re:Water is heavy (1)

needs2bfree (1256494) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151791)

I dont see why we cant send up hydrogen. Light, will have more of an impact than radiation and is cheap, and hard to screw up, since if it explodes, no radiation, and is the most abundant element in space anyway. Scratch that, why send it up when we can get it from space in the first place?

Re:Water is heavy (1)

sg7jimr (614458) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151847)

Our supplies of fresh water are limited but there's an awful lot of water in the ocean and it doesn't say it has to be fresh water.

Re:Water is heavy (1)

usman_ismail (1394927) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152193)

Unless the water is very very luck its orbit will decay and it will fall back on to the Earth. Stable orbits are very difficult to achieve.

But about the other point (water is heavy) you are right on the money there. I am just pulling this out of the air but won't using electromagnets to push/pull debris out of a stable orbit be cheaper. I mean all satellites must have some ferromagnetic material in them.

Re:Water is heavy (2, Insightful)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152283)

Clean, potable water is limited, we have cubic miles of stuff we can't drink or cook with... although clean sea water would be about perfectly seasoned for cooking pasta, rice, or potatoes. As for expense, it's expensive to lift anything into space, but if we don't do something soon, we are going to have to armor plate everything we send up just to get through the "shotgun zone" we are creating up there... lifting armored ships and payloads would also be expensive and would not help reduce the problem.

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27150669)

Since space is a "near" vacuum wouldn't the water flash to steam instantly and be useless?

Re:Huh? (4, Informative)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151473)

Since space is a "near" vacuum wouldn't the water flash to steam instantly and be useless?

The enthalpy of vaporization for water is very large. On exposure to vacuum, immediately the water will begin to boil. This will very rapidly cool the water so that most of it ends up freezing (the enthalpy of fusion is comparatively much lower). Not only does this make mathematical sense, but it's witnessed daily on vacuum lines in labs.

Obrigatory (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150687)

Sharks can fly to space?

Re:Obrigatory (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27150901)

> Sharks can fly to space?

That's what the water is for.

Re:Obrigatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27150923)

That's why they need the water guns. So that they can get the sharks with friggin lasers on their heads into outer space. Brilliant!

Re:Obrigatory (2, Funny)

usman_ismail (1394927) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152257)

This Summer, coming to a theater near you, Jaws, in space, WITH A FRIGGIN LASER ON ITS HEAD!!!!

Water? (1)

theReal-Hp_Sauce (1030010) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150705)

I've not read TFA yet as I'm just on my way out the door but...

We are already approaching a world wide water shortage are we not? What possible good could come of firing water into space? Even the dirty stuff needs to stay on the planet, as it will never be replaced once it's gone.

-hps

Re:Water? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27150759)

Please, Please be joking.

World wide water shortage? Hardly (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150871)

Potable water is mostly at its limits in many areas of the world because of politics, science has had the answer for along time and there has been ample money available, where it is allowed.

Plus politics is a great way of creating shortages where none existed. I live the perfect example of this, where it was decided years ago in some Federal Court that some mussels and some barges needed the water more than humans for who the damn was created form decades ago.

I won't even get into how much people waste in the states watering their lawns, I swear some of my neighbors could fill a pool a week.

Look on the bright side (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151131)

I won't even get into how much people waste in the states watering their lawns, I swear some of my neighbors could fill a pool a week.

You must live in a good neighbourhood. Some of my neighbours could fill a pool a week with their empty beer cans.

Re:Look on the bright side (1)

imikem (767509) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151669)

You say that like it's a bad thing...

Re:Water? (1)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150905)

Send up seawater. Don't think there's gonna be a shortage of that in many million years. Hell, everyone keeps complaining about Venice slowly sinking into the rising ocean.

Re:Water? (1)

xch13fx (1463819) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151083)

Send up seawater. Don't think there's gonna be a shortage of that in many million years. Hell, everyone keeps complaining about Venice slowly sinking into the rising ocean.

Yea and the huge flood that global warming is sure to incur. It might be a good idea to start bailing the water out now.

A little OT but I wonder if this came about during the same brainstorming session that is trying to figure out how to accidentally push space junk into China's upcoming space stations.

Re:Water? (1)

TreyGeek (1391679) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150969)

But it's perfect. As the polar ice caps melt, the oceans rise and will one day flood out coastal cities. So, we start now by exporting salt water into space thus saving the world! (Or at least coastal cities from flooding.)

Re:Water? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151227)

Yeas, we all need huge or little ice chunks and ice crystals floating around in orbit and punching through different hardware.
Afterwards we can send rows and rows of brave astro and other nauts with flame throwers to clean up the ice ;)... of wait it will not work

And wouldnt the laser fire create little molten chunks of meal? I dont see a complete 100% destruction of orbiting stuff with a laser beam. Even a dust sized chunk can puncture almost everything at orbital speeds.

Re:Water? (1)

fataugie (89032) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151527)

We are already approaching a world wide water shortage are we not?

No, we're not. Take a look at the earth from space....75% water. WTF?

Do you mean Drinkable water? Why the fuck would we send bottled water to space when salt water or mud puddle water would work just as well?

Re:Water? (3, Insightful)

mikeee (137160) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151829)

Given the price of launching things to space, you could use scotch whiskey instead and it wouldn't affect the cost or feasibility of this plan.

Re:Water? (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152345)

Why the fuck would we send bottled water to space when salt water or mud puddle water would work just as well

Well, it would be nice to have some sort of legitimate use for all that "sparkling" bottled water you see in the shops.

Re:Water? (1)

usman_ismail (1394927) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152285)

I've not read TFA yet as I'm just on my way out the door but...

We are already approaching a world wide water shortage are we not? What possible good could come of firing water into space? Even the dirty stuff needs to stay on the planet, as it will never be replaced once it's gone.

-hps

Global warming is causing sea levels to rise we have to get rid of the extra water some how.

Good (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150733)

I hope it's done safely and wisely, but it desperately needs to be done. BTW, the image in the article looks like the kml feed from STRATCOM reported in /. back in Sept 08.

http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/09/05/1231228

Ok, now serious, really (2, Interesting)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150785)

Ok, jokes apart now hehe.

Someone writes on slashdot days ago about the interesting idea of put a "shield" on space made with a plastic soft container, for example a large plastic bag. fills then with water, the water frozens and you get a good ice shield to put on path of debris. once the shield caugth the debris then can send back to Earth on a planned reentry or ejected to deep space

Re:Ok, now serious, really (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151551)

Doesn't work. The impactors will just break loose pieces of the ice. There has been some thought put into using Aerogel, since it has density low enough to not explode when hit by something going very. fucking. fast.

Re:Ok, now serious, really (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152165)

The plastic bag is just to the ice not drift away when inpacted (and to control shape on solidification). And i are thinking on a big ice shield, a one big enougth to not "explode" on every debris inpact. Think on something like firing a gun against a thick ice wall, this is the idea.

Well, armchair rocket science here... (2, Insightful)

guruevi (827432) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150793)

But aren't all of those 'solutions' already considered?

Space garbage zapping: You'll end up with particles and debris that is smaller and more difficult to track. Given a speck of paint in space has the same effect as a bullet on earth I don't know if we really want that.

Space garbage collecting: However you try to do it, your spacecraft would have to either maneuver very very well in order not to be destroyed itself (making even more debris) or have such heavy shields that would make it nigh impossible to get into space.

Space pushing into the atmosphere: Just like garbage collecting, your spacecraft will have to be careful. On the other hand it would also be possible that with a slight miscalculation you push it into an orbit that's either much more dangerous (if it bounces instead of incinerates) or more difficult to track and clean up. Next to that some things might just give other side effects here on earth. What do you think would happen if you push an old satellite with some type of nuclear fuel into the atmosphere and it doesn't burn up completely the way you want it to and it basically becomes a dirty bomb in high orbit.

Re:Well, armchair rocket science here... (3, Funny)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150989)

What do you think would happen if you push an old satellite with some type of nuclear fuel into the atmosphere and it doesn't burn up completely the way you want it to and it basically becomes a dirty bomb in high orbit.

ZOMG!!!! You're giving terrorists ideas!! I'm reporting you!!!

Re:Well, armchair rocket science here... (1)

thedonger (1317951) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151081)

In the field of armchair chaos theory, I would like to propose the sudden convergence of every (co-spheroid-planar?) orbit upon on singular point. Or if you prefer the more Hollywood version, they unite to form a malevolent intelligence bent on the destruction of mankind. I think either would be pretty cool.

Re:Well, armchair rocket science here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27152185)

But aren't all of those 'solutions' already considered?

The solution is simple: Mine sweeping retirees on the beach have been training for this assignment for years.

Hmmm. I think I smell a sitcom in this... (1)

Tangential (266113) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150885)

Watch Thursdays at 8 for the wacky antics and hijinks of a hilarious team of orbiting garbage collectors as they circle the planet collecting debris and aiming it at ex-Spouses, in-laws etc... back on Earth.

Re:Hmmm. I think I smell a sitcom in this... (1)

Spazztastic (814296) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150933)

team of orbiting garbage collectors

Damn, the recession must be hitting the rocket scientists REALLY hard for them to resort to garbage collection.

Re:Hmmm. I think I smell a sitcom in this... (1)

escherblacksmith (981346) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151019)

I liked both of the previous related shows . . . Salvage 1 [imdb.com] and Quark [imdb.com] Brilliant idea, BRILLIANT!

Re:Hmmm. I think I smell a sitcom in this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151371)

Nah, it is already done ...
Planetes [animenewsnetwork.com] [animenewsnetwork]

Re:Hmmm. I think I smell a sitcom in this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151885)

They already have an anime about that.
Its called Planetes.

Pretty damn good actually.

Re:Hmmm. I think I smell a sitcom in this... (2, Funny)

SLot (82781) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152217)

It will never last on Fox.

Re:Hmmm. I think I smell a sitcom in this... (1)

herring0 (1286926) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152353)

Well, you could get Sidney J. Furie http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094074/ [imdb.com] from Superman 4 and make sure that it doesn't stay on the air. Though to be honest it sounds more like something you'd see on the BBC.

Water???? (4, Interesting)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150917)

Not only would lofting water into space be a colossal waste of energy and water, it would only exacerbate the problem!

IMHO the only 'clean' way to deorbit debris is to add energy to the debris in the retrograde direction without using additional mass, which means photons. Laser pulses could do it either by radiation pressure directly (huge laser), or by pulses that ablate the debris slightly (creates tiny beads of additional debris).

Electron/proton beams would work as well, as would alpha particles, but they'd pose a risk to humans in space. In fact, using charged particles might induce a charge on the debris that would then help direct the debris toward it's doom (debris vector, Earth's magnetic field, right hand rule....whatever).

Re:Water???? (3, Informative)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151613)

Not only would lofting water into space be a colossal waste of energy and water, it would only exacerbate the problem!

IMHO the only 'clean' way to deorbit debris is to add energy to the debris in the retrograde direction without using additional mass, which means photons. Laser pulses could do it either by radiation pressure directly (huge laser), or by pulses that ablate the debris slightly (creates tiny beads of additional debris).

Electron/proton beams would work as well, as would alpha particles, but they'd pose a risk to humans in space. In fact, using charged particles might induce a charge on the debris that would then help direct the debris toward it's doom (debris vector, Earth's magnetic field, right hand rule....whatever).

You do know that electrons/protons/alpha particles have mass, right?

Re:Water???? (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152373)

Maybe we should just pick up some rocks on the Moon and fire them at the debris. We could build a base there to mine and build rocks of the appropriate size and man the launchers. Won't be easy work, living on the moon. It can be a harsh mistress.

How do you pull with a push? (1)

Onyma (1018104) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150939)

I am not rocket scientist but I am curious about this one:

"The laser would only singe the surface of an object in space, but that tiny burn could still help point it downward, Dr. Campbell says"

How does one singe and object from below and expect the resultant force on the object to move it down? I would expect you would get off-gassing from the burnt bottom side which would nudge it higher. If the object was rotating (which I'm sure close to 100% of them are) you would end up with an unpredictable resultant force on the object. On the surface it seems to me that the laser technique would at best produce a pseudo random result and at worst push the object higher.

I'm sure it is being thought through by minds much more experienced in such things than mine... just makes me curious how that works.

Re:How do you pull with a push? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151145)

Pushing the object out will put it into an elliptical orbit. If you make it extreme enough, then the skinny part of the orbit will be within Earth's atmosphere, causing it to slow down and burn up.

Re:How do you pull with a push? (3, Interesting)

icebrain (944107) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151451)

Orbital mechanics work in strange ways. For example, in a circular orbit, you don't thrust up to go up, you thrust forward. Going down, you thrust backward.

In this case, your best bet will be to hit the forward side of the object. If that's not possible, then hitting the bottom of it (depending on where it is in the orbit) will also have an effect. I can't remember offhand what happens from in-plane radial delta-V application, but I think it's a combination of changing the eccentricity of the orbit without affecting the total energy, and changing the longitude of periapsis. Sorry, it's been a couple years since I took orbital mechanics...

Now if you get a space-based laser up, you get more freedom in how your burns are applied.

Re:How do you pull with a push? (1)

Onyma (1018104) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151585)

The front side thing I can see as you slow the orbital velocity thus causing the orbit to drop. I wonder how many of these items they could hit that accurately.

The bottom side part is very interesting... might have some idle reading to do tonight.

genius at work (2, Insightful)

thedonger (1317951) | more than 5 years ago | (#27150979)

[from the slideshow attached to the article]

"The more pieces of debris up there, the more chance you'll have another collision," says space analyst Geoffrey Forden at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wow. Just, wow.

Re:genius at work (3, Funny)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151641)

Yeah, someone from Caltech said the same thing, but you can't trust second-rate sources when it comes to space analysts...

Re:genius at work (2, Funny)

pcolaman (1208838) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152233)

He's the John Madden of Science.

Water.... (1)

wpiman (739077) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151003)

Water is heavy. It is something like $10,000 a pound to launch something into space. This is why they put all the astronauts on a diet and make them take a leak before launch.

One cubic foot of water is around 60 lbs. The is $600,000 per cubic foot of water. Not very cost effective. And my numbers are old and off the cuff. It could be far more expensive now.

Re:Water.... (3, Informative)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151359)

One cubic foot of water is around 60 lbs.

I thought that number sounded a bit high as a gallon only weighs about 7 pounds, but sure enough, a cubic foot of water DOES weigh around 60 lbs. 62.42796 pounds [fourmilab.ch] to be exact. And a gallon is actually just over 8 pounds.

Re:Water.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151447)

Actually at 37.77 degrees Celsius, 0.028316 cubic meters of water is 28.12 kilograms. Enough of this bronze age imperial system! Your convertin' is hurtin'.

Re:Water.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151615)

Okay, just so you know, in practice people working with metric just use different rounded units for such examples. The objection to metric "but look at how awkward 2.54 centimetres is" is idiotic, since it's only the result of converting from some awkward us customary or british imperial unit (they're two slightly different systems, btw - using the same unit names for different amounts, argh! the inch is the same in both, but other units differ [wikipedia.org] )

1 cubic metre of water is 1000 kilograms. So 1 litre of water is 1 kilogram. It's set up that way deliberately to be easy to work with.

Re:Water.... (1)

wpiman (739077) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152031)

but don't I sound much more intelligent knowing the fact that one cubic foot of water weighs around 60 lbs..... Saying one liter of water weights one kilogram at 4 degrees Celsius is far less impressive.

The metric system makes life too easy.

Should we really be firing our water into space? (1)

ivanmarsh (634711) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151017)

Seems like a bad idea.

Space Garbage abatement (1)

railman99 (1060664) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151091)

What a bunch of MO...RONS!

I did a calculation once upon a time when I designed a 300 man space base, lofting the water alone would cost Billions of $ per year, assuming a Space Shuttle model launch cost. Far cheaper to loft energy from ground based mechanisms to combat space clutter. If the space gun aka John Hunter concept was still alive, we could send up ice less expensively in that manner ala Jules Verne. Ground based LASERS are impractical at this stage of their development, which leaves ground based kinetic projectiles as the sole cost effective, short term solution to the problem.

What would happen is we nuked it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151107)

Out of interest, what would the consequences be if we used Nuclear weapons in an attempt to get rid of the space junk? Would it just create more debris?

Re:What would happen is we nuked it? (1)

frith01 (1118539) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151337)

Aside from the obvious ( Do not look at nuclear explosion with remaining eye), you also get a nice EMP effect from nukes.

This would effectively eliminate the same satellites you are trying to protect.

Add to that, the problem of other countries not liking the idea of an orbital nuke launch, protests against nuclear weapons, political implications, making utility purpose for Nukes, etc.

Laser Broom (2, Informative)

CopaceticOpus (965603) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151229)

A key to his plan is using existing low-power lasers in quick pulses, much like the flashbulb on a camera. The laser would only singe the surface of an object in space, but that tiny burn could still help point it downward, Dr. Campbell says. Project Orion's low-budget approach hits at a conundrum of space debris.

To be clear, they are not talking about blowin' up space junk with lasers. The laser will instead slow down small pieces of space debris so that their orbits deteriorate. (Blowing things up is the domain of the other Project Orion [wikipedia.org] .)

This mechanism is called a laser broom, and there is a short entry [wikipedia.org] about it on Wikipedia. I can't seem to find a more detailed, technical description of how this process works.

Just keep launching junk into orbit (2, Funny)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151253)

Eventually we will have that solar shield that the repair-global-warming crowd keeps raving about.

Hire some Space Mexicans! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151273)

With jet packs and leaf blowers - you cant go wrong!

Frickin' lasers? (1)

snarfies (115214) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151283)

These are all very nice ideas, but first they'd have to develop spacesuits for the sharks.

Which puts us one step closer to landsharks.

Re:Frickin' lasers? (4, Funny)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151589)

Which puts us one step closer to landsharks.

*knockknock* "Plumber!"

I predicted this as a kid (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151319)

I remember back almost 20 years ago when I was a high school freshman, our english teacher gave us this paper.

Within a big rectangle, we could write or draw anything we wanted.

The papers were then going to be scanned and put into some condensed format... some kind of tape or disk I guess.

Then our scanned work was going to be flown to space. I don't recall why... or where. Probably just piggybacking on some satellite launch?

But I do remember that I was a smart ass... and drew a picture of Earth with huge clouds of satellites and garbage cans and garbage bags orbiting it. It was my little protest to sending our stupid drawings up to space.

Man I wish I could see that picture again. I'm getting all nostalgic just thinking about it.

Only one way to be sure its clean (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151367)

Call Adam Quark.

A NASA physicist response (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151489)

I just saw an email response of this story from a physicist at NASA that specializes in space debris. Their response was that throwing water into space would just cause more space debris as ice.

So, don't get too excited about the water idea.

Backyardigans (1)

blackjackshellac (849713) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151515)

I recommend watching the Backyardigans GarbageTrek episode. Some pretty funky music too.

New NASA revenue stream . . . (2, Insightful)

BoozeRunner (924400) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151579)

Oh wow . . . imaging having that game on-line. 1. Create a mobile base with a laser in space 2. Sell tickets on-line to shoot space debris for 5min 3. ?? 4. Profit!

AEROGELS (I guess spacegels) (1)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151621)

If aerogels can be made in space (without the need for the heavy supercritical fluid needed to make it on earth or if there is some way to recycle the fluid) you could cheaply launch very large volumes of a substance that would have the ability to absorb momentum from colliding objects. This would either result in the object being embedded in the aerogel (if it was small relative to the aerogel) or the object would punch through it but still end up being decelerated (if the object was large but still small enough not to destroy the aerogel).

This is of course the material that was used in NASA's stardust mission which picked up cometary material while passing by it at a very high relative velocity. (25,000+ mph?). The (tiny) cometary particles became embedded in the aerogel.

If you can scale this up substantially you should be able to capture or at least decelerate much larger objects. Of course this means your aerogel would have to be very large and thick but since it is the lightest material known to man the launch costs would be very low IF YOU COULD MAKE IT IN ORBIT. Having a very large piece of aerogel also increases its cross section which is very desirable because you'll eventually want to basically sweep up ALL the objects in earth orbit that can cause harm (like paint chips, etc.) and not just the ones that are large enough to be tracked.

I believe aerogels are used for micrometeoroid protection on the ISS.

An interesting question (assuming this worked) would be; if there were semi-random impacts on a large orbiting "sponge" as it were would this cause the sponge itself to de-orbit? (Of courses you could periodically reboost it). Or would the impacts from all directions cancel each other out? I say "semi-random" because even the debris from orbital collisions probably have some "bias" in their motion, for example most satellites were launched towards the east to gain angular momentum from the earth's spin.

Re:AEROGELS (I guess spacegels) (1)

Bobnova (1435535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152367)

It's an interesting concept, but it has issues. Largely, aerogels are largely air and therefor very lightweight. You would need a truly huge chunk of aerogel with a lot of weight strapped to it if you wanted it to catch things without gaining a lot of velocity itself.

It'd work great for the little stuff though, you'd still need a lot of it as space rather large, even just in orbit.

Space Quest (1)

Halo1 (136547) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151629)

Where's Roger Wilco when you need him...

What about Spiderman? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151679)

Couldn't he just sling some webs?

Energy (2, Interesting)

OldFish (1229566) | more than 5 years ago | (#27151771)

It was very costly to put all that mass up there - it should be collected and eventually recycled in orbit. Basic physics.

Re:Energy (1)

Bobnova (1435535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152265)

That's a decent point. We need an orbiting recycling and manufacturing center.

Sky clearance day! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151799)

Remember Max Headroom in the late 80's when they had their annual sky clearance holiday? They brought out these big lasers that they used to zap all of the debris out of orbit and everyone partied like Marti Gras.

Call in the pool experts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27151995)

A cosmic game of pool for space nerds is in order, bonus points for taking down opposing spy satellites...

else put more junk in orbit to save us from asteroid impacts :-)

Do the math, fellas (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152081)

The economics of this plan are kinda awful.

For instance, sending water into space is mighty hard on the wallet. Figure on about $8,000 per pound to send it into a retrograde orbit. And you'd need to send up, oh, let's say a trillion pounds to seed the orbits with a 0.0000001% density of ice. About 10^11 cubic kilometers, 10^26 cc's, 10^18 grams, 10^ 15 kilos, 2.2x10^15 pounds, 1.8x10^19 dollars. That's a 18 billion billion dollars.

And using lasers is no picnic either. You'd want to deliver many kilowatts per square centimeter, which isn't going to be feasible from the ground. Normal atmospheric refraction over the long distance (you have to shoot at the approaching edge of the object, low in the west), that's going to wiggle and disperse the beam by many miles, that's even assuming one could ever develop a radar with the required accuracy (not likely).

Water is a greenhouse gas (1)

Bobnova (1435535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27152245)

Last time I checked water was a greenhouse gas, as such it seems awfully silly to talk constantly about global warming and then blast a bunch of water into the upper reaches of the atmosphere(all earth orbits are still in atmosphere, just really really thin atmosphere).
It may be that the amount of water they're talking about is entirely too small to change much, but if they actually want to clear all the debris up they're going to need a lot of water.

Of course, whether that's an issue or not really depends on whether you believe in global warming.
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