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Space Junk Getting Worse

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the time-for-a-doomsday-machine dept.

242

HockeyPuck writes "According to Space.com the amount of space junk is getting worse. 'A head-on collision was averted between a spent upper stage from a Chinese rocket and the European Space Agency's (ESA) huge Envisat Earth remote-sensing spacecraft. [...] But what if the two objects had tangled? Such a space collision would have caused mayhem in the heavens, adding clutter to an orbit altitude where there are big problems already, said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency's Space Debris Office in Darmstadt, Germany."

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Push them further away (2, Interesting)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263170)

When you abandon satellite, fuel tanks or anything else in the space, why not just push it floating further away in space? Let some aliens take care of them.

Re:Push them further away (2, Insightful)

Andorin (1624303) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263224)

Or the sun?

Re:Push them further away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263266)

That is a perfect landfill, actually. We should start sending all our garbage there.

Re:Push them further away (5, Funny)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263690)

We should start sending all our garbage there.

I agree, but how will we convince all 535 members of Congress to get on the space ship?

Re:Push them further away (2, Insightful)

berashith (222128) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263916)

Promise them money for their district. It isn't like their actions aren't easily bought.

Re:Push them further away (1)

Lovedumplingx (245300) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263362)

Right? Didn't anyone watch Superman 4?

Re:Push them further away (3, Funny)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263532)

That wouldn't take much fuel or anything...

Re:Push them further away (1)

Rene S. Hollan (1943) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263250)

Because that takes fuel, whether to push them into a higher orbit or a lower one (say to disintegrate on reentry).

Re:Push them further away (4, Informative)

crow (16139) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263262)

I think they normally push them into an orbit that will degrade so that they'll burn up on reentry. That takes less energy than putting them on a trajectory that leaves Earth's orbit.

The real problem is junk that doesn't have working thrusters and communications so that they can tell it to de-orbit.

Re:Push them further away (2)

EchaniDrgn (1039374) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263518)

Maybe they should make a space barge that goes around taking care of space junk...

There's a movie there somewhere, I know it!

Re:Push them further away (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263662)

There have been at least two TV shows that I'm aware of.

Re:Push them further away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263846)

Perhaps send a man to space where it is his job to clean up the space junk. And during his downtime, make him watch cheesy movies (the worst we can find - lah lala). I have a feeling he will start to make robots and escape via a pod hidden in a crate of Hamdingers.

Re:Push them further away (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263868)

Space balls?

Re:Push them further away (2, Interesting)

ircmaxell (1117387) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263284)

That's not a viable solution, because perhaps, someday very soon (on an interplanetary scale at least) we'll want to send something into space... The better alternative would be to put it into a degrading orbit, and let it burn up in the atmosphere or crash into the ocean. Then, you could create an autonomous robot to go out an collect the "small" debris (and incapacitated objects) that are out there, and send them into a degrading orbit. At least we'd be able to predict some cool shooting stars!

Re:Push them further away (4, Informative)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263306)

When you abandon satellite, fuel tanks or anything else in the space, why not just push it floating further away in space? Let some aliens take care of them.

It takes energy to send a satellite up into a higher orbit, and even more to push it out of Earth orbit entirely...

For that matter it also takes energy to shift a satellite to a lower orbit, too. About the only thing you get for free is atmospheric drag, and then only once your satellite is already low enough to run into the upper atmosphere.

To give a satellite the ability to do any of these things, it must carry its own rocket motors and fuel - this increases the satellite's launch-weight, which in turn increases the fuel requirements of the booster.

Re:Push them further away (3, Funny)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263580)

Exactly, so we should build a gigantic ground based laser that can vaporize a school bus sized object in 1/4 a second. I want the beam to be 30 feet wide and blackout every city in a hemisphere when it fires. Heck make it powerful enough that it adjusts the earth's orbit due to the amount of photos being fired.

Plus we can use it when the aliens get here all pissed off that we are cluttering up the lower EM spectrum with a lot of useless chatter.

Re:Push them further away (5, Interesting)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263776)

Not sure how serious you're being, but a laser could be used without needing to vaporize the entire object. A laser broom [wikipedia.org] works by vaporizing just a small part of the object to create thrust and knock the object out of orbit.

The laser broom is intended to be used at high enough power to punch through the atmosphere with enough remaining power to ablate material from the debris for several minutes. This would provide thrust to alter its orbit, dropping the perigee into the upper atmosphere, increasing drag so that the debris would eventually burn up on reentry.

Re:Push them further away (1)

insufflate10mg (1711356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263860)

Aren't photons massless?

or pull them back (1)

Looce (1062620) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263314)

and reuse or recycle the parts.

Re:or pull them back (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263486)

The energy required to lift an atmospheric shield into orbit would dwarf the energy saved by recycling the material (and the parts themselves are likely to be worthless after a service life in space).

Re:or pull them back (4, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263600)

We do exactly that. We let them burn up in the atmosphere, or crash into the ocean. The parts then get dissolved in the rain, or in the ocean water. The dissolved little bits get laid down on the ocean floor and riverbeds as mineral deposits. These mineral deposits get mined. The ore gets refined. New parts are designed, and voila, a few million years from now you get a shiny new starboard reticle articulation trunion. Why, the very reticle articulation trunions used on the shuttle Discovery were once part of a Jurasic era weather monitoring satellite.

Re:Push them further away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263354)

So I'm supposed to put up my cheetos and stop playing world of warcraft to come clean up YOUR garbage? You earthlings are lazy.

Re:Push them further away (1)

beirutbob (1002743) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263470)

Yeah, I was kinda thinking a bigger version of the mosquito laser that was posted a couple of weeks ago.

Re:Push them further away (1)

Jeian (409916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263496)

They tried something similar to this in Futurama. Didn't go so well.

Re:Push them further away (1)

colmore (56499) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263516)

Because Earth orbit is not zero gravity, it's freefall. Moving into a wider orbit takes thrust to counteract Earth's gravity, which is still considerable.

Re:Push them further away (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263538)

Because they don't have a space trucker with unlimited fuel to do that.

It's far easier to use the last of the fuel to decay the orbit and crash it to earth than design the satellite to be 80X larger so it has giant fuel tanks and a big engine to get it to escape velocity.

Re:Push them further away (5, Informative)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263572)

These days, for the most part, we do that. Launch trajectories are planned with CCAM (collision and contamination avoidance maneuvers) deorbit profiles or extended orbital profiles. That is to say, spent rocket stages and such tend to be rocketed into escape orbits or back into the atmosphere to breakup. Satellites are a bit harder to do this with, as, sometimes they end up using a bit more fuel than planned and, as such, may not be able to thrust into a proper disposal method. Of course, this is also regulated now so most (if not all) modern missions are required to take this excess fuel margin into account when being designed.

Really, the big problem with the current space junk comes from orbital bodies that are decades old. Before things were regulated heavily in orbital operations, many satellite were just left to decay and breakup in orbit. As a result, we have a lot of detached thermal blankets and other clutter drifting around up there. There is also a large contribution that comes from nations which do not follow modern disposal regulations. The article mentions that China is one of these nations. There are others (such as Iran) but they are not contributing a whole lot because many space programs are still small.

When it comes down to it, spacecraft disposal is a responsibility just like terrestrial recycling. The responsible thing to do is pay more and dispose of things correctly. Unfortunately, we didn't plan ahead from the get go and some people just prefer cutting corners.

Re:Push them further away (1)

Eudial (590661) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263608)

For the same reason we don't "just push" things into orbit.

Re:Push them further away (1)

Cobble (1116971) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263902)

We need the Matlock guy to get up there with Salvage 1 (remember that awful tv show?) and clean this mess up. But seriously, we should probably send up some unmanned garbage collection ship(s) to boost the stuff back into the atmosphere where it will *mostly* burn up on re-entry.

Options (2, Interesting)

Jeng (926980) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263300)

I wonder why this issue hasn't been fixed by now.

I can come up with quite a few ways that we could remove space junk, most aren't very good, but there is one I think would work the best.

Launch a couple satellites with solid state lasers. Heat up the side of the space junk facing earth and let the laser push it into the atmosphere.

Plus if you have a few dozen up there you could perhaps deflect larger objects, yet they would be useless if you wanted to shoot a target on the surface of the Earth.

There has to be a reason that there has been next to no attempt to control the space junk issue, I guess getting funding to clean up orbits is hard to come by.

Re:Options (1)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263422)

Where ya gonna get the energy for this [dr_evil_quotes]"laser"[/dr_evil_quotes]?

Re:Options (2, Interesting)

Jeng (926980) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263456)

Solar panels.

We're not talking a very powerful laser here, it doesn't have to be.

Re:Options (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263562)

Could we not just use power on Earth to use lasers on Earth to incinerate the debris? We already track the debris from the ground with radar, why not use ground-based lasers to eliminate it? I'm aware the laser would need to be more powerful (adaptive optics can be used to correct for the atmosphere) but you benefit from ground-based power, people, and equipment.

Re:Options (1)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263446)

But then space will be weaponized, no matter how much space junk you promise to clean up it still will be able to kill live satellites.

Re:Options (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263512)

We just have to get the people in control of the satellites to promise not to use them for evil purposes. That should solve the problem right there since everybody sticks to their promises :D

Re:Options (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263838)

We'll just put them on a defenseless remote Pacific island and check up on them every year or so. Nothing bad will happen, I'm sure of it.

Re:Options (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263618)

There have been weapons in space before. Satellites have more to fear against ground based attacks than they would for a small scale laser in orbit.

Re:Options (3, Interesting)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263462)

I wonder why this issue hasn't been fixed by now.

I can come up with quite a few ways that we could remove space junk, most aren't very good, but there is one I think would work the best.

Launch a couple satellites with solid state lasers. Heat up the side of the space junk facing earth and let the laser push it into the atmosphere.

Plus if you have a few dozen up there you could perhaps deflect larger objects, yet they would be useless if you wanted to shoot a target on the surface of the Earth.

There has to be a reason that there has been next to no attempt to control the space junk issue, I guess getting funding to clean up orbits is hard to come by.

There will be no concerted effort to remove space junk until the risk of collision with space junk rises to the point that it costs less to remove the junk than to risk being hit by it.

It could be that this is some important idea in physics I simply don't understand... But how does a laser push an object into the atmosphere? What good does heating up one side of it do? How powerful of a laser do you need to significantly alter the trajectory of a piece of space debris? And how do you heat up one side of it if the object is spinning? (Which it almost surely is...) What happens if the laser misses? And if the object you're shooting at doesn't give off a diffuse reflection, how do you know if you hit or missed?

Re:Options (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263674)

It could be that this is some important idea in physics I simply don't understand... But how does a laser push an object into the atmosphere?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_pressure [wikipedia.org]

Plus if you can ablate material you'll get thrust from that.

Re:Options (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263762)

I think it is just still easier to avoid it, or pretend it is not there. Clearly it doesn't happen that often, in spite of all the horror stories no ones has ever been hurt.

Once it is a big deal, that will launch that big lazer. There are some prototype plans already, remember reading about this.

Re:Options (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263764)

But how does a laser push an object into the atmosphere? What good does heating up one side of it do?

Photons carry momentum. Not much, but they do. So, the laser itself can push the object. Heating one side so it emits more photons would push it as well. If it's spinning that's not much use, but the laser would still impart momentum.

Re:Options (1)

coolsnowmen (695297) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263822)

If you have enough energy to 'boil' the surface of the object (low pressure makes this easier but not trivial), then the local pressure difference is a differential force on the object. In this way, the laser appears to push an object in space.

Re:Options (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263476)

A satellite such as you describe would be both tremendously expensive, and (quite justifiably) regarded as a weapon. And dealing with the amount of junk currently in LEO, we'd need not one such satellite, but a lot of them. There's also the problem of what counts as junk -- the US, Russia, and China certainly, and several other nations probably, have a number of satellites that have no public record of their existence, but which are very much active and functional. If anything the garbage-sweeping satellite doesn't have in its database is classified as "junk" and destroyed, it would end up taking these satellites down, and the owners might get ... testy.

Re:Options (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263556)

If anything the garbage-sweeping satellite doesn't have in its database is classified as "junk" and destroyed, it would end up taking these satellites down, and the owners might get ... testy.

Then have it work off of a white list of approved junk.

Besides, I'm talking about something for knocking the little bits and pieces out of orbit, it would take quite a big hit or multiple lasers to knock a black ops satellite out of orbit.

Re:Options (3, Informative)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263558)

The vast majority of space debris consists of small particles, from microns up to 1 centimetre (0.39 in). Although there are an estimated 100 million such particles in orbit, they represent a tiny fraction of the total mass of human-made objects in space: perhaps 1%. On impact, these particles cause damage similar to that from a micrometeorite and the widespread use of Whipple shields is effective against the damage they would otherwise cause. Many parts of spacecraft, however, cannot be protected with Whipple shields and are subject to constant wear and tear.

As these sorts of smaller debris represent the minority of the mass, and cause little damage, much of the focus on space debris risks centres on larger debris. The exact definition of "larger" generally means "the size that can be tracked using current technology" and thus changes as tracking technologies improve. In general, these objects are on the order of 10 centimetres (3.9 in) or larger and mass from about 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) and up. Collision with a fragment of this size at the average speed of 10 kilometres per second (6.2 mi/s) would be catastrophic. As a result, space missions have to consider a number of operational factors and risk mitigation strategies.

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_junk [wikipedia.org] )

Launch a couple satellites with solid state lasers. Heat up the side of the space junk facing earth and let the laser push it into the atmosphere.

Plus if you have a few dozen up there you could perhaps deflect larger objects, yet they would be useless if you wanted to shoot a target on the surface of the Earth.

There has to be a reason that there has been next to no attempt to control the space junk issue, I guess getting funding to clean up orbits is hard to come by.

How are you going to "push" objects that cross your orbit with 10 km/s?

They have some solutions on wikipedia:

[edit] Self-removal

It is already an ITU requirement that geostationary satellites be able to remove themselves to a "graveyard orbit" at the end of their lives. It has been demonstrated that the selected orbital areas do not sufficiently protect GEO lanes from debris, although a response has not yet been formulated.[47]

Rocket boosters and some satellites retain enough fuel to allow them to power themselves into a decaying orbit. In cases when a direct (and controlled) de-orbit would require too much fuel, a satellite can also be brought to an orbit where atmospheric drag would cause it to de-orbit after some years. Such a maneuver was successfully performed with the French Spot-1 satellite, bringing its time to atmospheric re-entry down from a projected 200 years to about 15 years by lowering its perigee from 830 km (516 mi) to about 550 km (342 mi).[111]

Another proposed solution is to attach an electrodynamic tether to the spacecraft on launch. At the end of their lifetime it is rolled out and slows down the spacecraft.[112] Although tethers of up to 30 km have been successfully deployed in orbit the technology has not yet reached maturity.[33] It has also been proposed that booster stages include a sail-like attachment to the same end.[113]
[edit] External removal

The vast majority of space debris, especially smaller debris, cannot be removed under its own power. A variety of proposals have been made to directly remove such material from orbit. One of the most widely discussed solutions is the laser broom, which uses a powerful ground-based laser to ablate the front surface off known debris and thereby produce a working mass that slows the debris in orbit. With a continued application of such thrust, the debris will eventually spiral down into a low orbit and become subject to atmospheric drag.[114]

The US Air Force worked on a ground-based design under the name "Project Orion".[115] Although a testbed device was slated to launch on a 2003 Space Shuttle, numerous international agreements forbidding the testing of powerful lasers in orbit, caused the program to be limited to using the laser as a measurement device.[116] In the end, the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster led to the project being set back, and as Nicholas Johnson, Chief Scientist and Program Manager for NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office, later noted, "There are lots of little gotchas in the Orion final report. There's a reason why it's been sitting on the shelf for more than a decade."[117]

Another well-studied solution is to use a remotely controlled vehicle to rendezvous with debris, capture it, and return to a central station.[118] A number of other proposals intercept the debris in a foamy ball of aerogel or even a spray of water.[119] These would impact with the debris and slow it. Some propose inflating balloons around the objects in order to increase their atmospheric drag. However, it was pointed out that a balloon could be punctured by other debris, thereby failing in its mission and actually increasing the amount of mass in orbit.

In any event, the cost of launching any of these solutions is about the same as launching any spacecraft. Johnson has stated that none of the existing solutions are currently cost effective.[33]

I have a another suggestion: The US should stop pushing militarization of space, and EU/UNO should make a treaty.

Re:Options (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263692)

Launch a couple satellites with solid state lasers. Heat up the side of the space junk facing earth and let the laser push it into the atmosphere.

So far as I understand, lasers require a large amount of energy to produce an appreciable amount of heat. That energy has to come from somewhere, like large solar panels. Large solar panels (or other large power sources) add mass and moment arms to your spacecraft. This requires a complex control system (reaction control wheels and computers) to damp out possible perturbations and maintain an accurate pointing of the spacecraft (crucial if you are going to be shooting high powered lasers at anything). A complex control system requires a powerful computer which eats more power and adds more mass. More mass increases the launch cost. Congratulations, you just designed a multi-billion dollar spacecraft/mission.

Plus if you have a few dozen up there

While buying in bulk does reduce the cost per spacecraft of the mission you are talking about, you can still do a rough multiplier and figure you have spent about $9 billion dollars on spacecraft design and parts alone (and to be honest, that is an incredibly low estimate). Add to that cost another few fudge factors for developing production facilities, testing facilities, paying for workers holidays and hours spent on slashdot. Now you have a terribly expensive mission (at least $10B). That's a lot of coin to come up with.

I guess getting funding to clean up orbits is hard to come by.

Yup. =)

Re:Options (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263744)

Just keep the laser on the ground and use adaptive optics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_optics [wikipedia.org] so that it remains coherent up to the junk you're trying to get rid of. You don't have to change the orbit much, just enough to drop the Perigree into the upper atmosphere which can be done by pushing the junk straight upward away from the Earth. It's called a Laser Broom, they've been talking about it to protect the ISS from debris for a while now but there's no reason it couldn't be applied to the larger problem of space debris in general.

The main problem is that the power of the beam needed to do this contravenes the Outer Space Treaty, which bans laser weapons in space. Personally, I don't see how it applies since the laser itself would be on the ground, but that is what the wiki page says http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_broom [wikipedia.org]

Re:Options (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263754)

Launch a couple satellites with solid state lasers. Heat up the side of the space junk facing earth and let the laser push it into the atmosphere.

Umm, if you turn a laser onto the side of the space junk facing Earth, the laser will push it away from Earth, not toward Earth.

If you want to make it hit atmosphere, you want to push the leading edge of the junk, which will drive it into a lower orbit, and eventually into atmosphere.

Note, by the way, that we have a Treaty forbidding the weaponization of space (hence FOBS), so this isn't really practical right now.

Time to send up Quark! (1)

techie42 (1375369) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263308)

Sounds like it is time an outerspace garbage man. Where can I apply for that job?

Re:Time to send up Quark! (5, Funny)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263364)

Sounds like it is time an outerspace garbage man.

Where can I apply for that job?

I hear Technora Corp is putting together some kind of department for this...

Re:Time to send up Quark! (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263602)

Won't be running til 2068 though :/

Re:Time to send up Quark! (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263410)

Vacuum Cleaners, Inc.

Re:Time to send up Quark! (1)

MorderVonAllem (931645) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263426)

They are hiring [youtube.com] .

Is it any wonder that junk in space is a problem? (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263330)

If you think about it - with those crazy toilet systems and the fact that you're always trapped in those confining suits - really I think it's to be expected that space junk would be pretty awful.

Sounds like a job for... (1)

VTSV (1682748) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263376)

Sounds like a job for Ron Planet [ronplanet.com]

Perhaps.. (4, Funny)

Bearded Frog (1562519) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263398)

Could we just continue this trend and call it a shield against alien invasions? I for one welcome the trash shield.

Re:Perhaps.. (3, Funny)

sbillard (568017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263908)

Not just a shield again alien invasion. It can reflect sunlight back into space before it's trapped by greenhouse gases. Bye bye global warming!

Can you say Wall-E (1)

codgur (1518013) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263414)

Can you say Wall-E

I dont have to, you said it twice. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263660)

I dont have to, you said it twice.

Who cares... (2, Insightful)

Superdarion (1286310) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263416)

If companies don't hestitate to pollute rivers, seas, air and pretty much everything that could very well kill us right now, why would they think twice before polluting something we, as a civilization, have no regard for? Personally, I'd rather see them stop polluting Earth than low-orbit space.

Re:Who cares... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263614)

Precisely, precisely.

humans can't see long term effects of their short term actions - we are simply not wired that way.

Mega Maid (1)

Nos. (179609) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263418)

This sounds like a job for mega maid:

"Suck, suck, suck!"

Re:Mega Maid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263478)

I got a job for you to suck right here, baby

We are past due... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263464)

We are past due for a powerful ground laser to atomize tiny orbiting debris in space! Build it already! Don't worry about terrorists taking control of the laser and blasting ground targets. Just secure it very VERY well. It's more important to get rid of this space junk that keeps increasing in abundance.

The area of space immediately around the globe (1)

Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263468)

Is absolutely vast, even considering the common orbiting heights. A couple of thousand objects floating around (OK with their own intrinsic velocity) in such a ginormous area, isn't going to cause *that* many problems.

One would hope :-)

Re:The area of space immediately around the globe (2, Interesting)

Speare (84249) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263650)

A couple of thousand objects floating around (OK with their own intrinsic velocity) in such a ginormous area, isn't going to cause *that* many problems.

The odds of guessing your birthday correctly is roughly 1:365. That's dismal odds. The odds of picking the birthday of somebody in your household is slightly higher, because everyone in your family probably has a different day for their birthday; however, it's really really unlikely (barring twins) for there to be a COLLISION where two people share the same birthday. If you go to the pub or classroom, however, the chances of SOME PAIR of people with the same birthday skyrockets. In fact, you should bet that there WILL be such a collision in a group of only 24 people. If you played the game "are there two people here with the same birthday" in a few different classrooms, you'd easily win more than you lost.

Collisions of space junk is very similar, except (1) all the birthdays are continuously moving on the calendar as the pieces orbit, so it's like you're playing the birthday game over and over again, many times per second for decades, (2) you only need to win the birthday game once, and (3) you're playing with billion dollar satellites and astronauts' lives, not beer money. Do you really want to leave it to such odds anymore?

Re:The area of space immediately around the globe (1)

timster (32400) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263816)

So what you're saying is, it won't happen to MY satellite, but I'll probably hear about it happening to somebody else's satellite.

That doesn't really sound like a big problem...

Re:The area of space immediately around the globe (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263818)

Applying the birthday problem to this only makes sense if you are considering the chances of space junk hitting anything else, including other space junk. We don't care if space junk hits space junk, we only care if space junk hits astronauts. (in other words, we only care if the space junk has the same birthday as the astronauts, not if space junk and space junk share the same birthday.)

Re:The area of space immediately around the globe (1)

rotide (1015173) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263854)

Actually, if one piece of space junk hits another piece of space junk, the net result will probably be more than two pieces of space junk. No, nothing of value was lost, however, now there is even more junk to worry about. The volume of junk may not have changed, but the odds of the new count of junk encountering something of value changes. However, I must note that it could _drop_ the chances if the orbits degrade because of the collision. But I have a feeling that's a futile point to get stuck on. The point is, junk encountering junk makes more junk to worry about.

Re:The area of space immediately around the globe (1)

Rand Race (110288) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263746)

*Any* problem like this would be disastrous due to the Kessler Syndrome [wikipedia.org] .

Re:The area of space immediately around the globe (1)

rotide (1015173) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263748)

True, however, there aren't many orbits that are useful (which you mention). Geosynchronous orbit, for example, is at a very specific altitude and speed. Put to much junk in that orbit or into an orbit that ends up passing through it and you have the potential to shut down all traffic in that orbit.

That's just one example.

You also have to understand the immense speeds things travel up there. Most of these items are traveling at faster than bullet speeds (6867+ mph for Geo Sync if my source is correct).

Point here is, very expensive things are sitting up there in a proverbial shooting gallery. A lot of open space works great when it's two people alone adrift on the ocean. It's entirely another when we're talking thousands of bullets zinging around.

I thought space was a vacuum (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263472)

So why don't they just use it and clean up?

A head-on collision? (1)

Jay L (74152) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263480)

When an unmanned satellite nearly hits an ejected rocket stage... what exactly counts as a head-on collision? Would it be safer if it was side-impact?

Re:A head-on collision? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263694)

Considering orbital velocities. a single 1/8th inch ball bearing would rip through a Military armored humvee like it was tissue paper. so a booster stage.... would turn both objects into several hundreds of thousands 1/8th inch to 2 inch sized jagged particles and pieces that are all now going to spread out and turn into a satellite death cloud.

Re:A head-on collision? (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263802)

I really doubt that Chinese rocket was in a polar orbit, so this would be side-impact collision. But no it would make no difference at all to the total destruction of the satellite.

Re:A head-on collision? (1)

mea37 (1201159) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263832)

"what exactly counts as a head-on collision?"

Direction of travel, one would imagine.

"Would it be safer if it was side-impact?"

In that less of the relative kinetic energy between the two bodies would be spent breaking them into smaller pieces, I suppose it might be marginally safer. That's a far cry from saying that it would be "safe", though.

Re:A head-on collision? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263864)

Would it be safer if it was side-impact?

No. Orbital velocities result in extremely high kinetic energies. Any collision is likely to be catastrophic.

how to fight the next world war. (1)

Brigadier (12956) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263488)

I always thought that with terrorists becoming the next mortal enemy the best way for an to fight woudl be to shoot a few rockets filled with #4 ball bearings into space. You kill communication (comm sat), mapping(GPS), and intelligence (spy sat), and force them to fight man to man.

Electrodynamic de-orbit tether... (1)

BubbaDave (1352535) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263494)

Electrodynamic de-orbit tether, dammit.

Dave

Re:Electrodynamic de-orbit tether... (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263900)

Over 18,000 existing objects being tracked in Earth orbit by USAF, dammit.

We need a recyling center (4, Interesting)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263498)

We need to have someone up in space, collecting all this crap and recycling it. Even if it is just Sanford & Son style recycling, it costs way too much money to get mass up there for us to just throw it out and leave it there.

If something weighs 3 tons and is in orbit, someone should be able to take it up to the space station, bolt it down, and start wielding the holes shut.

Responsible (1)

johncadengo (940343) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263502)

As more and more of it piles up, I wonder, would they be legally responsible for their space junk and the damage it causes? When I was young and left toys out on the floor, I got in trouble whenever anyone stepped on it. Now older, if I left some nails on the road, surely someone would come looking for me.

This is a job for! (1)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263524)

Roger Wilco, SPAAAAACE JANITOR!

Really though - make a fund to fund the development of a janitor robot. Something small, light and cheap that can attach to junk, then lob it at other junk to destabilize the junk orbit while maintaining its own orbit. The folks working on "Star Wars" projects would already be there on several aspects.

Ryan Fenton

Tangled? (1)

BigBadBus (653823) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263526)

Thats a crap euphemism for collision!

Air Force Commercial (1)

colmore (56499) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263536)

Why not just maneuver out of the way like in that ridiculous Air Force commercial?

Step 1: Ban space weapons (4, Insightful)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263568)

Stop idiots [wikipedia.org] from blasting satellites in space an creating even more debris. Stop other idiots [wikipedia.org] from giving the first group of idiots a reason to blow up satellites.

How? (1)

jayveekay (735967) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263718)

Any nuclear armed country that wants to blow stuff up in space (whether to test satellite killing weapons, or just to grief the rest of humanity) is going to be able to do so.

Why not create an artificial moon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263684)

Is it possible to create a mass that will attract all junk via gravity? If this mass (doesn't need to be BIG, just need to have a high mass) orbit around earth... it'll catch every piece of space junk at that altitude... no ? I don

Am I crazy?

Re:Why not create an artificial moon? (1)

space_jake (687452) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263922)

Wouldn't that also affect all of the stuff orbiting the planet that isn't junk too?

Use gravity? (1)

CFBMoo1 (157453) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263700)

Why not setup some kind of sweeper objects to zip around up there and alter their trajectories so they eventually de-orbit faster and burn up? Kinda like how some of Saturn's moons shepard the rings?

there is no space junk "problem" (4, Funny)

Jawn98685 (687784) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263704)

A group of "industry scientists" has, they claim, shown conclusively that there is no "space junk problem". Moreover, they have shown that even if there is a problem, it is not man-made but is instead, due to natural changes that are cyclical in nature.

There is No Space Junk (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263724)

There is only low earth orbit junk.
I for one welcome our low earth orbit junk overlords.

For only by succeeding them will we ever be doing actual SPACE exploration.

Did anyone else imagine... (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263726)

...a giant penis in space, lacking a giant vagina? ;)

“Tangling” of those two objects might be exactly what we need. ;)

But what if the two objects had tangled? (1)

laughing_badger (628416) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263740)

I can answer that question: blood would have been spilt outside my office door. There's folks involved in both these missions with offices on my corridor :)

Rfits (1)

kenp2002 (545495) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263758)

Has to me mentioned in the Rifts RPG at some point in the war someone launched effectively frag missles that turned everything in orbit into a high speed shredder locking out anyone off Earth and locking in everything on Earth. What it to prevent some lunatic rogue (yeah no makeup here!) nation from doing the same?

We need more funding for space elevators (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263768)

Space elevators http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator [wikipedia.org] would help alleviate this problem since we wouldn't need to send up a lost rocket which pretty much every single launch. The other option is to build successor craft to the shuttle that are reusable and actually cost effective (at this point, it is essentially cheaper to send up most satellites using single-launch rockets rather than reusables). Each of these would help a lot in cutting down the space debris problem. Unfortunately, given human nature, the much cheaper cost of space travel that would come with a space elevator would likely result in a lot more disposable or poorly produced satellites which create more of a problem. Ultimately, the solution will likely rest on a combination of better technology and actual regulation of space debris just as we regulate most pollutants.

Nuclear... (1)

nebaz (453974) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263786)

Several high yield nuclear warheads launched to detonate simultaneously at a uniform high altitude, spread equally around the globe an equal distance around the globe to vaporize all the space junk in the upper atmosphere. No more space junk. What could possibly go wrong?

ghetto dyson sphere (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#31263880)

What I want to know is how much junk can we orbit before we have to start calling it a dyson sphere?

Apropos Anime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31263930)

PlanetES. It won the Seiun Award (Japanese science fiction award), centering around a space debris removal team. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DakRYsUIiIE

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