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!

Swiss To Build Orbital Cleaning Satellite

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the so-that's-what-happens-to-s.o.l dept.

Space 147

garyebickford writes "As The ETH Lausanne says: 'The proliferation of debris orbiting the Earth – primarily jettisoned rocket and satellite components – is an increasingly pressing problem for spacecraft, and it can generate huge costs. To combat this scourge, the Swiss Space Center at EPFL is announcing today the launch of CleanSpace One, a project to develop and build the first installment of a family of satellites specially designed to clean up space debris.' This looks like a reasonable method, although I think that at some future point it might be useful to just put at least the smaller stuff in a higher 'parking orbit' for later destruction or recycling. This way you wouldn't lose one vacuum cleaner for each satellite retrieved. And much later down the road, it might be useful to collect bigger units — expended boosters, for example — as raw materials and/or containers. The cost of getting the mass into space has already been spent. I optimistically foresee a future where much of the stuff sent into orbital space has a recycling function built into the design."

cancel ×

147 comments

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

After 13 years... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047033)

First post!

Spaceba! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047111)

Boy, is US Robotics gonna be pissed!

Re:Spaceba! (2)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047385)

Hmm...why don't we just take the hit from one of the old James Bond movies, was it "You Only Live Twice"?

The one where the rogue rocket would come up behind the space capsule, and the nose would open up and 'swallow' the target space ship, the close up and come back to earth.

We've known about this tech for decades now...easy peasy!!!

Re:Spaceba! (4, Funny)

rah1420 (234198) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047431)

I get it. It's like an orbital Wall*E.

Re:Spaceba! (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047725)

I get it. It's like an orbital Wall*E.

Ender Wiggin, Space Sanitation Specialist

Re:Spaceba! (2)

Megane (129182) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048471)

This is a job for Adam Quark, UGSP!

It's like catching a bullet (1)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047113)

Most of this debris isn't sitting still, It's moving at thousands of MPH. How do you plan to catch something moving that fast without destroying the collector?

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047143)

The collector will be orbiting, too.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047461)

So, it's like catching a bullet while going 60Mph down the highway?

Re:It's like catching a bullet (3, Informative)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048297)

No, I believe it would be more like catching a 25,000mph bullet while doing 25,000mph yourself. Just make sure you're both going in the same direction...

Orbits different, that is why there is a hazard (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049401)

No, I believe it would be more like catching a 25,000mph bullet while doing 25,000mph yourself. Just make sure you're both going in the same direction...

The problem is that orbits and velocities are different, that is why debris is often such a hazard. Its not just stuff moving in the opposite direction, its stuff moving in the same direction at a different velocity. A collector would need a lot of fuel to be matching various orbits and velocities.

Re:Orbits different, that is why there is a hazard (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049739)

I oversimplified, but that was the general point I was trying to make in my last sentence ;)

Re:Orbits different, that is why there is a hazard (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049913)

As long as the proposal of TFA is followed the fuel is not really an issue, TFA mentions a single fish per run.

Not exactly efficient for small fry but fine when they're able to catch a big one.

...with another bullet (1)

Comboman (895500) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047503)

The collector will be orbiting, too.

So instead of being like catching a bullet with a baseball mitt, it's like catching a bullet by shooting another bullet at it.

Re:...with another bullet (4, Insightful)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047585)

That's not a very effecient way to collect debris, if you have to expend fuel just to catch up to it. It seems like there would be a better solution, like using lasers to push the debris out of orbit into space.

Re:...with another bullet (1)

john82 (68332) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048327)

That's not a very effecient way to collect debris...

Nor is the notion that you can clean up such a vast volume of space with a small capsule. Kind of like thinking you can clean up the entire North American interstate system with a single street sweeper.

Re:...with another bullet (2)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048531)

Easy, Wall-E cleaned up the whole earth.

Re:...with another bullet (1)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049707)

Exactly, and if they do have some technology to do this, why not clean our oceans instead.

Re:...with another bullet (1)

Ichijo (607641) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049945)

That's not a very effecient way to collect debris, if you have to expend fuel just to catch up to it.

Or you could grab it while it's passing you.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

Arrepiadd (688829) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047509)

There's this thing called relative speed... (you can imagine the rest, right?)

Re:It's like catching a bullet (5, Insightful)

kimvette (919543) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047561)

We are currently orbiting the galactic core at 220 km/s and around the sun at 30 km/s and yet you can catch a baseball tossed to you, unless you're a total klutz, right? If you are riding in a bus, walking toward the back, and a passenger in the back throws a cellphone to you, you can catch it, right? Even though if the bus is traveling at 65mph relative to the street, and the cellphone 35mph relative to the bus floor (or 100mph relative to the street)

Motion is relative. Speed is relative.

The satellite will not be motionless relative to the junk.

Think about it.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047807)

We are currently orbiting the galactic core at 220 km/s and around the sun at 30 km/s and yet you...

Can you please convert this to ft/s for us Americans?

Re:It's like catching a bullet (4, Funny)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048441)

For us Americans, it's "purdy darned fast". It's faster than NASCAR, and faster than a shotgun shell, by a lot.

Also, it's about 136 miles per second. In each second, that's the distance of two hours of driving at most states' speed limits, one hour of driving in New Mexico (because after an hour of driving in New Mexico, any still-sane human has to stop anyway), and about 30 hours of "driving" through New York City traffic.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39048809)

We are currently orbiting the galactic core at 65,640 furlongs per minute and around the sun at 524,934 nail per second and yet you...

Can you please convert this to ft/s for us Americans?

FTFY

Re:It's like catching a bullet (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047829)

Even though if the bus is traveling at 65mph relative to the street

I was in full agreement until this comment. Everyone knows buses never go over 35mph... 35mph tops- and then only in the fast lane whilst overtaking a bus going 34.5mph.

The only way a bus would travel 65mph is if you pushed it off a cliff.

all I know about buses (4, Funny)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047999)

I learned from Speed - I thought they all had to stay over 55 mph...

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39048093)

Everyone knows buses never go over 35mph...

Everyone knows buses go 50mph minimum.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

es330td (964170) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048437)

Everyone knows buses never go over 35mph

Casino junket buses from Texas to Louisiana go well over 35mph. The problem then becomes catching said cellphone whilst intoxicated and using one's hands to stand up.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048391)

You're analogy is incorrect. The debris floating in orbit does not all follow the same exact path and motion, some of the debris have wild elliptical orbits. The space station has been damaged in the past by floating debris traveling faster than the speed of sound. It's like trying to land a space craft on an asteroid vs. a rock here on earth. In space it takes very precise calculations and movements to synchronize with another moving object. You've been watching too many movies. And incase you didn't know, ships don't make g-force turns, and there is no Whoosh sound when ships fly by in space.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39049433)

It's like trying to land a space craft on an asteroid

If Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis can do it, then I would assume some Swiss scientists can

Re:It's like catching a bullet (0)

blackfrancis75 (911664) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049611)

You're analogy is incorrect.

Am I?? How insulting!

Re:It's like catching a bullet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047583)

Remember physics class? Velocity is relative to a reference frame, so things like momentum are also relative to a reference frame. You catch stuff from behind, while traveling in the same direction as the debris, going just slightly faster then your target. If someone bumps into you on an airplane, it doesn't feel like they hit you going 600mph, because you are moving at that speed in the same direction as them. You only feel the 1-3 mph they were moving relative to you.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048649)

Do you know how much fuel it would require to reference the ships speed to every piece of garbage in space?

Re:It's like catching a bullet (2)

dargaud (518470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047645)

That's what I'm wondering: the delta-V to go from one target to the next must be huge, even if you optimize your orbit changes. You probably need to take a huge amount of fuel to catch only a few tens of targets. And this fuel turns into gas, also following the same orbit. I wonder if it has any influence on active satellites or if it diffuses away too quickly.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

na1led (1030470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048609)

It takes a lot of fuel just to get a satellite in proper orbit.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050093)

I'm going to answer something filthy:
RTFA!

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047685)

Most of this debris isn't sitting still, It's moving at thousands of MPH. How do you plan to catch something moving that fast without destroying the collector?

Employ people on the ground to map out the best path to collect as much rubbish as possible with the fuel available - chose best path, least number of turns, accellerations and so on.

Best. Game. EVER!

Re:It's like catching a bullet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39049207)

...the traveling sales^H^H^H^H^Hspace sweeper problem is NP Complete.

Re:It's like catching a bullet (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048535)

How do you manage to catch a baseball when the earth is orbiting so fast, the solar system is moving through the galaxy so fast, the galaxy is moving so fast, the universe is expanding, etc?

Re:It's like catching a bullet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39048703)

This problem has been solved since 1967.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_rendezvous#First_docking

Nowadays it's common place. How do you suppose people get supplies aboard the ISS?

A collector could be sacrificial ... (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049533)

Most of this debris isn't sitting still, It's moving at thousands of MPH. How do you plan to catch something moving that fast without destroying the collector?

A collector could be sacrificial, designed to just sit there and take the hits. As long as it captures the debris and does not itself spall and generate more debris. A loose analogy would be a block of ballistic gelatin capturing a bullet as the bullet fragments.

Figures It Would Be The Swiss (5, Funny)

avgjoe62 (558860) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047117)

I mean, the stereotype of them being neat and orderly was not far off, at least from looking at their towns and cities. Some of the cleanest urban areas I've ever seen. I can see them wanting to clean up outer space too.

Re:Figures It Would Be The Swiss (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047443)

If you want to explain this based on the Swiss sterotypes, then the one you really should be using is more allong the line: the Swiss discovered that the debris had not filled proper paperwork to be in the orbit that it was in, so they are sending up a clerk to take care of things.

Re:Figures It Would Be The Swiss (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047717)

To be honest, I had though of both of these (the neatness first), but didn't post.

Well played, both of you.

Mod parent and GP up!

Re:Figures It Would Be The Swiss (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050157)

Being Swiss they'd hire a foreigner to do the dirty part.

Re:Figures It Would Be The Swiss (2)

formfeed (703859) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047955)

Yes. I started laughing when I read the headline. No,no,no, the Swiss, a cleaning satellite. Can you do anything more hilarious to reinforce stereotypes?!

And for all who didn't see the pun: Kishon about Swiss cleanliness [ephraimkishon.de]

Re:Figures It Would Be The Swiss (2)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048603)

Just like Americans and throw-away junk satellites re-inforce that stereotype!

Re:Figures It Would Be The Swiss (2)

SockPuppetOfTheWeek (1910282) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050739)

Now if they could just make it also resemble a Swiss Army Knife, that would be pure win.

Out of all nations.... (1)

Niedi (1335165) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047161)

Coming from the swiss, that is just hilarious [blogspot.com]

Re:Out of all nations.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047619)

I thought the same thing. I don't want to perpetuate national stereotypes, but Switzerland really was the cleanest place I've ever visited.

Space fort (1)

WillgasM (1646719) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047167)

Awwwwww! I was saving all that debris to build a space fort. Back to my damn treehouse.

giant wad of bubblegum? (3, Interesting)

Quirkz (1206400) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047185)

I hope this cleaning satellite is a giant wad of bubblegum with a couple of boosters attached to it. It'll just float around getting in the way of the little stuff, all of which will stick to the bubblegum. We all know how well gum picks up little bits of metal like the keys to a jail door, so it should be perfect for satellite debris.

Re:giant wad of bubblegum? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047475)

It isn't. It's a complicated contraption that grabs a single piece of junk with a robotic arm and then deorbits. Costing millions per piece of junk.

Your idea sounds better.

Re:giant wad of bubblegum? (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047581)

I've played Katamari... It's in no way better. Pretty soon that gum will get to the size of Saturn and just suck up the Earth on it's way to Jupiter.

Re:giant wad of bubblegum? (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047887)

Even though you are joking- I wonder if anyone ever has considered that approach.

Not Bubblegum- but if there is a way to trap and stick to micro-pieces in space traveling at such high velocities without being ripped to shreds? Is a trash mopping satellite with a super-bubblegum-like property infeasible? Obviously- that would be for the micro-trash.

Re:giant wad of bubblegum? (2)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049289)

I've been proposing gelatinous cubes in space for years. A big cube made of airgel. It won't get the bigger pieces (which the satellite in TFA will), but it'll catch all the little paint flecks and specks of metal and insulation which are too small to track. The cube should be big enough and the airgel material dense enough to capture debris, but not dense enough to shatter on impact (gradual deceleration). And due to its large size, eventually atmospheric drag will cause it to burn up on re-entry.

quark, anyone? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047199)

Shades of Quark [wikipedia.org] ?

Salvage 2.0 (1)

tiberus (258517) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047207)

Hmm, sounds like Salvage 1 [imdb.com] is about to become reality...

Re:Salvage 2.0 (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047743)

Or maybe PlanetES [youtube.com]

Re:Salvage 2.0 (2)

Deus.1.01 (946808) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048733)

I recommend Planetes strongly, even if you can't stand anime(its very low on the bubblegum factor and exaggerated character dimensions), i suggest you overcome your dislike.

Its brilliant hard-scifi in a near future where space have begun to be commercialized, hundred years after the moon landing.

Re:Salvage 2.0 (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048857)

Or Quark. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Salvage 2.0 (1)

The Mister Purple (2525152) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050203)

Oh yes, that is an excellent one!

i call prior art!!! right here on /. (3, Interesting)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047219)

Re:i call prior art!!! right here on /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39048541)

if by "prior art" you mean "a very general concept of an idea" then yes.

Gary doesn't understand the problem (2)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047271)

"although I think that at some future point it might be useful to just put at least the smaller stuff in a higher 'parking orbit' for later destruction or recycling. This way you wouldn't lose one vacuum cleaner for each satellite retrieved. And much later down the road, it might be useful to collect bigger units — expended boosters, for example — as raw materials and/or containers"

I don't think you understand the issue. These debris are largely small parts from paint flakes to metal needles. The amount of larger "useful" material is small. Moreover, it's in different orbits. You'd spend more fuel running around getting them than you would save just launching up new mass.

Re:Gary doesn't understand the problem (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047347)

Plus 'parking' it in a higher orbit will jsut cost more fuel to both send it up there, and go and get it later.

No that clever. How about gathering and de-orbiting it like sensible people do.

Oh, wait...

Re:Gary doesn't understand the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39048057)

"... These debris are largely small parts...

And small-ly large parts like boosters and fuel tanks...

After Space Cowboys (1)

Yoda222 (943886) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047295)

Space Dustman

Re:After Space Cowboys (3, Interesting)

nschubach (922175) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047633)

I was thinking more of Mega Maid.

Re:After Space Cowboys (1)

a-zarkon! (1030790) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047797)

Mega Maid is indeed the correct solution to this problem. Get me President Skroob at once!

The debris is actually a planetary asset (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047351)

Given enough debris, things like Chicxulub may be mitigated merely by causing the arriving asteroids to fragment early.

Re:The debris is actually a planetary asset (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048361)

I hope you're joking. That would be like saying that a classroom full of flying spitballs is safer from cannon fire.

Recycling not an option (2)

jimbolauski (882977) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047483)

The problem with recycling in space is that machines must be brought up into space to harvest the materials, then other machines would be needed to manufacture items using the recycled objects. Just think of a mother board yes you can get the elements back but creating a new processor takes very specialized machinery that needs upgrading every 5 years or so. For this to even be remotely possible there would all ready have to be a manufacturing facility in space, the up front cost to achieve something like this are hard to fathom and it probably would not be economically feasible to achieve due to the need to upgrade manufacturing facilities to keep pace with facilities on earth.

Re:Recycling not an option (3, Funny)

Sentrion (964745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048099)

The problem with recycling in space is that machines must be brought up into space to harvest the materials, then other machines would be needed to manufacture items using the recycled objects. Just think of a mother board yes you can get the elements back but creating a new processor takes very specialized machinery that needs upgrading every 5 years or so. For this to even be remotely possible there would all ready have to be a manufacturing facility in space, the up front cost to achieve something like this are hard to fathom and it probably would not be economically feasible to achieve due to the need to upgrade manufacturing facilities to keep pace with facilities on earth.

You forgot the China factor. Now that China has entered the space race, expensive and complicated machines will not be necessary to recycle the space material. Chinese laborers will process the debris manually at a cost savings of 10 to 1. Material too complicated to be processed by hand, such as motherboards, will simply be re-purposed, such as to serve as wall tiles for the new orbiting shanty towns that will house the workers. I think Foxconn is already bidding on the contract. As safety of the workers will not be a concern, the budget for the entire program will be only a fraction of a single NASA launch.

Cost Effective (1)

craigminah (1885846) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047495)

I doubt this will be feasible but let 'em try. Ironic the "vacuum of space" needs vacuuming...

Re:Cost Effective (2)

devjoe (88696) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047905)

Actually, I think there is a financial model here. After proving the technology, they put a number of these satellites in orbit with a number of these "space junk vacuums" on board each one (since they are small), and launch them to take out space junk targets which threaten satellites - for a fee per vacuum. Since they are 30 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm per the article, you could load up a satellite with many of these, and perform this service for far less than the cost of launching a single satellite.

Its all about energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047499)

If energy becomes clean, cheap and plentiful then the cost of bringing stuff to orbit will subside as well as recycling need.

leave it to the Swiss... (1)

Cmdr-Absurd (780125) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047513)

to clean up space and restore order.

Re:leave it to the Swiss... (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048379)

To seek out new junk and trash constellations, to boldly clean where no man has cleaned before...

Why not just attack tiny retro rockets? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047591)

Come up alongside the debris, throw a bag around it that was tethered to a mini solid fuel rocket (or stick a mini rocket to the surface of the object). orientate the rocket to slow the debris down, start the mini rocket and let go of the bag?. Or just use a ping pong paddle to smack the debris towards earth.

Just build a solar-powered laser (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047601)

I know it'd probably violate the outer space militarization treaty, but a laser would be ideal for this sort of thing. Just give it a high-resolution camera, stick it in an extremely high geosynchronous orbit, and start zapping. Even a small change in orbit should be enough to push this stuff back down into the atmosphere and out of the way.

Re:Just build a solar-powered laser (1)

RussellSHarris (1385323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050861)

an extremely high geosynchronous orbit

FYI, that's an anachronism: All Earth geosynchronous orbits, whether circular or elliptical, have a semi-major axis of 42,164 km (26,199 mi). [wikipedia.org]

A geosynchronous orbit can't be modified by words such as "low" or "high". It is what it is.

Already an anime (1)

Latinhypercube (935707) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047755)

Yeah, this idea already exists as an anime:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetes [wikipedia.org]

Re:Already an anime (1)

The Mister Purple (2525152) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050233)

A most excellent anime, at that.

Without reading TFA- (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39047913)

It just seems weird that we combat space junk by... launching a new family of satellites.

The Katamari option (2)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047925)

Please correct me if I'm wrong but isn't Katamari that weird video game where you roll up a bigger and bigger ball of stuff until you end up absorbing everything?

Well, I've proposed in the past of using aerogels as a giant, low mass "sponge" to mop up orbital debris. The big problem is that nobody has demonstrated a way of manufacturing the stuff, in space, and certainly not without using a lot of the (heavy) supercritical fluid it takes to do it on earth. Since it is too bulky to launch from earth already made, this idea remains in the realm of science fiction.

Anyway, here's a different take on this idea. Perhaps, this Swiss (and other) probes could be launched with the following program in mind. First, they should go after the biggest piece of debris they can find, a spent upper stage would be just fine. Then, using a highly efficient ion engine, they should (slowly) change the orbit of the upper stage so that it will hit other pieces of space debris in as close to head-on collisions as possible. Wham!

While I hardly expect the pieces to stick together like in the video game, the resultant collision should slow down any resulting fragments from the space debris (and the upper stage battering ram) so they will de-orbit quickly. When, after many collisions, the battering ram has been whittled down to no longer be effective, the probe should push it so it de-orbits quickly and goes off to find another. In this way, over a ((very) long) period of time this one probe can clean up a lot of space debris! Think Wall-E in space.

Of course the probe will have to be specially designed to do this task. It'll need a LOT of propellent, even with an ultra-efficient ion engine you're talking about significant delta-vee of large masses. Big engines would help too because otherwise it'll take a LONG time to change these orbits. A good grappling mechanism and thrusters (ion again?) will be required to stop the upper stage from spinning. Also, even though it'll use the upper stage as a battering ram, it might need to have its own armoring; there will doubtless be scattered hypervelocity fragments. (Big solar panels for the probe are pretty vulnerable, a small reactor or even laser power from the ground might be needed for the power hungry ion drives). Finally, some of the most advanced anti-sat/anti-ballistic targeting technology will be needed to hit the debris; you're still hitting a bullet with a (big) bullet. At least the space debris is unlikely to be taking any evasive maneuvers!

What's critical of course is that the probe/battering ram hits the space debris as HEAD-ON as possible, this is to rob the debris (and its fragments) of as much orbital momentum as possible so that they almost literally "fall out of the sky". Otherwise you'll potentially end up with a situation like when the defunct Rusian sat hit the Iridium satellite; much MORE debris was created. As for the probe/battering ram, of course it will lose orbital momentum during each collision, the difference is that it can regain it with its ion-drive (better not hit something too big!).

Re:The Katamari option (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048451)

Please correct me if I'm wrong but isn't Katamari that weird video game where you roll up a bigger and bigger ball of stuff until you end up absorbing everything?

Yes it is. A big glorious ball. A big glorious beautiful ball to turn into a star to decorate the sky which looks much too plain. Start rolling young prince. And please ignore my crotch bulge.

Typical! (1)

JonathanF (532591) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047933)

Leave it to the super-orderly Swiss to decide that their big contribution to satellites will be to keep everyone else's neat and tidy.

the word Vacuum Cleaner (1)

atchijov (527688) | more than 2 years ago | (#39047981)

got the whole new meaning!

Too complicated... (3, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048001)

Try the simple way. How about a fairly high sub-orbital launch of a bunch of water, perhaps with an explosive device to disperse it.

The water is below orbital velocity, even with any velocity added by the explosion. Ditto for the container the water was in. In short order you have a giant cloud of water vapor. Everything flying through that cloud loses a little velocity from collisions with the vapor. A little more time and the water and it's original container fall back to Earth. A little "downrange velocity" would increase the dwell time for the water vapor to stay in orbit, yet keep it all suborbital.

Energetically suborbital launches are a heck of a lot easier than orbital ones, even if a little downrange velocity is added. (Don't forget the first 1000mph is free.)

Re:Too complicated... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39049461)

awesome idea! too bad no one ever thought of water!
it becomes ice in space of course....and impacts with solid ice chunks at mach 50+ closing velocities tend to distribute tiny ice bullets in all directions at mach 25. kinda like a shotgun blast. and mach 25 ice chunks hitting solid metal spacecraft (also at mach 25, in the opposite direction) tend to punch holes in said metal spacecraft AND cause metal chunks to also blast out in all directions at mach 25. along with metal vapor and assorted debris. and electronics in space tend not to like having holes punched in them by ice particles at mach 25.
no doubt that can be overcome. now we just have to figure out how to keep ice from forming in space!

Global Warming (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048059)

Will handle the problem, expanding the atmosphere sufficiently to erode the orbits and burn the debris. I expect Fox will take credit.

If it's built by the Swiss (2)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048349)

It will probably have a fold-out corkscrew.

Use De-orbit To Power Collector Orbit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39048389)

Why come back to atmosphere - why not just shoot captured stuff into a retro orbit which boosts the Collector Craft - that way many pieces can be cleared as Collector makes its way to higher orbit.

Why not.... (1)

TemporalBeing (803363) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048461)

Well, all the stuff is up there; and yes, it needs to get collected some how. So why not:

1. Collect it into a massive space junk yard that can be managed.
2. Put up a refinery to take in the materials from the space junk yard and produce useful raw materials
3. Use the useful raw materials to (a) maintain the refinery, and (b) build additional stuff in space.

After all, wouldn't that be cheaper than bringing it down to earth and having to resend all the required materials up there again whenever we need to build something?

I could easily see a multi-national corporation or political body being able to manage this so that it could benefit any space-bearing country.

Anyone know a vacum safe glue? (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048511)

That's what they really need. A large tacky, ball of glue that stays sticky in a vacuum. Send it up and into the path of multiple satelites, let it grab them then deorbit the whole junky mess.

Think Katamari Damacy IN SPACE!

Interstellar Dumpster Diving (1)

eegad (588763) | more than 2 years ago | (#39048789)

Could be a great way to scoop up abandoned bits of technology and analyze them and/or profit from them...

Act of Aggression (2)

Sentrion (964745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049237)

Clearly this is an act of aggression of the Swiss as an insult to the pioneers of space travel, Russia and USA, and to undermine the cooperation between Russia and USA to install more facilities in space. But perhaps the real and treacherous purpose of this mission is to acquire military technology from the Eastern and Western powers to use for their own insidious plan to spread the concept of peace and neutrality throughout the world. The Swiss cannot be trusted to launch even one rocket into space. They may even go as far as to capture defunct commercial satellites to violate and exploit the intellectual property and trade secrets developed by private space faring corporations. This unjust enrichment cannot be allowed to stand!

Perhaps you say I am a shrill and making mountains out of mole-hills, but then answer this: Why does Switzerland, even today, still enforce compulsory military service for males 19 years of age and older? Why does a neutral "non-aggressive" nation have an army so large that during the 20th century it had the second largest armed force per capita after the Israeli Defence Forces? Why would a nation of peaceful citizens REQUIRE their soldiers to keep their assault rifles IN THEIR HOMES like red-necks from Texas? Why does the Swiss military maintain the Onyx intelligence gathering system for spying on both civil and military communications, such as telephone, fax or Internet traffic, carried by satellite? Why do Swiss building codes require radiation and blast shelters, and why does every family or rental agency have to pay a replacement tax to support these shelters, or alternatively own a personal shelter in their place of residence? Why does Switzerland claim to be a "neutral" country when they engage in "peace keeping" operations? Why is "the peaceful coexistence of nations" one of the five goals of Swiss foreign policy when, for such a small country, they are the 13th largest arms exporter in the world, including some of the finest weapons ever made?

Don't believe what I'm saying? It's all here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_army [wikipedia.org]

Re:Act of Aggression (1)

subreality (157447) | more than 2 years ago | (#39050983)

Some of your points about "peacekeeping" are good, but this:

Why does Switzerland, even today, still enforce compulsory military service for males 19 years of age and older? Why does a neutral "non-aggressive" nation have an army so large that during the 20th century it had the second largest armed force per capita after the Israeli Defence Forces? Why would a nation of peaceful citizens REQUIRE their soldiers to keep their assault rifles IN THEIR HOMES like red-necks from Texas?

By having a completely badass defense* force, they have a lot less need to intervene in their neighbors' affairs. It's nonzero as you point out, but they're not doing bad on the whole.

* actually defense, not some Orwellian Department of Defense

Will be commanded by Roger Wilco (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | more than 2 years ago | (#39049479)

This rate of change in the janitorial industry is unprecedented.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?
or Connect with...

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>