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More on Orbital Space Debris

michael posted more than 11 years ago | from the clean-sweep dept.

Space 275

wvanhuffel writes "This is a call for /.'s to put their thinking caps on. The US Airforce, NASA and other agencies are looking for ideas to find and eliminate threats from space debris to craft (space, in the use of). Personally I like the idea of "robots to serve as roving garbage scowls" - my question is "How do they identify 'garbage'?" - Would the ISS qualify?" I don't know what happened to the laser broom.

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275 comments

Sticky Umbrella (3, Insightful)

nagora (177841) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869729)

How about a large dish coated with a think layer of soft material which you put into an orbit you want to clean and after its been there for a while fire the retros and burn the lot up in the atmosphere.

Obviously this only works for grit and other small things.

TWW

Re:Sticky Umbrella (3, Insightful)

Wonko42 (29194) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869771)

The biggest problem with this is that there aren't specific "debris-only" orbits. In addition, space is *vast*, even just the immediate area around our planet. Putting this dish in a new orbit for every clump of debris we want to collect would be extremely expensive in terms of energy, which translates directly to expense in terms of money.

Re:Sticky Umbrella (2, Interesting)

nagora (177841) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869847)

The biggest problem with this is that there aren't specific "debris-only" orbits.

But there are "useful-only" orbits that we want clear. You would have to do some sort of analysis of how long a given size disc would have to be in orbit to clear it to a specific level of safety.

Well, it was just an idea.

TWW

Re:Sticky Umbrella (2)

tunah (530328) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869777)

Yeah but get a better name for it. I can see the stories now.

In a bold move yesterday, president Bush declared that a sticky umbrella would save us from meteorites

Re:Sticky Umbrella (1)

nagora (177841) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869859)

In a bold move yesterday, president Bush declared that a sticky umbrella would save us from meteorites

Well, I can't think of a name Bush would be sure NOT to make sound silly, so why not just go for it?

"In a bold move yesterday, Bush declared that a nuclearable rocketmobile would scatterfy any incoming meteoritiles."

TWW

Re:Sticky Umbrella (1)

Hittite Creosote (535397) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869852)

Perhaps sticky isn't the word, it's going to have to be made like a bullet proof jacket. Those little bits of debris can meet the dish at high speed.

Re:Sticky Umbrella (1)

nagora (177841) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869935)

I couldn't think of a word that meant "allows objects to embed themselves and hold them in place afterwards", 'abaltive' is definately wrong and that was as close as I could think of.

TWW

How about... (1)

baldass_newbie (136609) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869731)

A big freakin' magnet?
Make a satellite that's nothing more than a huge electro-magnet, launch it, turn it on, attract junk, do either a controlled descent or shoot off towards the sun (or other nearby, large orbital body.)

Re:How about... (1)

Pholostan (79534) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869781)

Hmmm, feels like there would be an energy problem with that soloution. OTOH, I don't know much about top of the line electromagnets. Maybe its is possible to make something that ha near supra conductor capabilities in that enviroment.

But to be able to shoot off debris sounds far over the top. But then again, what do I know?

Anyone who have worked with high capacity electromagnets care to comment?

Re:How about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869894)

How about a "controlled" electro magnet in orbit:

Magnet is in orbit with some sort of directional control. A magnet just trying to pick things up will only work on items moving at the same speed and direction. Instead of trying to "collect" items on teh magnet, blink the magnet on to affect the orbit of ferrous space junk.

In this manner, the "Magno-Satillite" can pull itself up to a higher orbit by pulling the higher orbit wrench into a path where it drops into the earths atmosphere.

Just a thought.
amcdiarm

Re:How about... (1)

Derg (557233) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869784)

I agree a magnet is not a bad idea, but heres an idea. Attach smaller electro magnets to stuff, sattelites, space stations, orbiters etc. and have them pick up the junk thats coming at them and passively sweep. Thats gotta be cheaper than building a dedicated satelite. Couldnt someone come up with a way of processing those collected scraps for fuel onboard said satelites/heavenly vehicles??...

Just an Idea...

Does this work on Ceramic Material? (2, Informative)

cnelzie (451984) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869802)


Just curious as I am under the impression that not all of the debris is composed of ferrous material that could be affected by a large magnet. Some of the debris is little more then chips of paint that fell off of satellites, shuttles and other space craft.

Simple. (1, Interesting)

drdata.nl (584604) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869732)

Let devices with a steel 'fishnet' orbit the earth in predetermined lanes. Connect them to a central 'space traffic control' which keeps track of registered objects. Remove all objects that are not registered, either by laser, or by using the fishnet (and bringing it back for examination)

Funny jokes by poopbot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869733)

Whats black, blue and green and doesnt like sex?
The Girl Scout locked in my basement.
Whats the worst part about having sex with a six year-old?
Getting the blood out of your clown suit.
Whats the best thing about getting a hand job from a five year-old?
That little hand makes your thing look really huge.
Guy comes home from work to find his girlfriend sitting on the porch, crying.
Whats wrong, honey?
Im leaving you! I just found out youre a pdophile!
Pdophile? Why, thats a pretty big word for a ten year-old.
How can you tell when your sisters on her period?
When your dads dick tastes like blood!
Two pdophiles are lying on a beach tanning, one turns to the other and says, Excuse me, youre in my son.
What is the sickest sound you hear when fucking a nine year-old?
Her hips snapping!
What is the best sound you hear when fucking a 13 year-old?
Her hips snapping!
Whats 18 inches long, blue, veiny, and makes a woman cry?
Crib death.
How could the mans seven year-old son tell that his dad had fucked his eight year-old sister? His dads weiner tasted like blood!
Watson returns home to find Holmes in bed with a child. He shouts, Is this some sort of a schoolgirl?
Holmes replies, Elementary, my dear Watson.
So I was having sex with my girlfriend, and I decided I wanted to get kinky and try and do her in the ass. So I slipped around back; she looked over her shoulder at me and said, My, how presumptuous of you. I said, Presumptuous? Thats a big word for a ten year-old.
Two guys are walking down the street when a beautiful woman passes. The first guy says, Damn! Id love to tear her clothes off, do her in the rear, smear my fces all over her, slice off her breasts, chop her into little pieces, put her in a garbage bag and toss her into the river!
Second guy says, Yuck! Youre a sick bastard!
First guy says, Whatre you? A fag?
A kindergarten teacher is asking the kids what their father does for a living. All the kids answer except for Little Johnny. The teacher asks Little Johnny what his Dad does and Johnny replies, My dad is dead.
The teacher says, Thats terribile, but what did he do before he died?
Little Johnny replies, He turned blue and shit all over himself!
A guy calls in sick to work.
Whats wrong? asks the boss.
Im sick, the guy replies.
You sound all right.
No, Im really sick. Believe me.
Listen, you were fine yesterday, and we have a lot of work today. I want you in here. You cant be that sick!
Dude, I just banged my sister. Dont tell me Im not sick.
A little girl accompanied her father to the barbershop. While her dad received a haircut, the little girl stood next to the barber chair, enjoying a snack cake. The barber smiled at her and said, Sweetheart, youre going to get hair on your Twinkie.
I know, the little girl replied. Im gonna get tits, too.
An older man and a small boy walk hand in hand through the woods.
Boy: These woods sure are spooky!
Man: You think youre scared, Ive gotta walk out of here alone.
Whats the difference between Neil Armstrong and Michael Jackson?
One walked on the moon, and the other rapes little boys.
Has anyone read Michael Jacksons new book, The Ins and Outs of Child Rearing?
Q: Whats the difference between a dead baby and a golden delicious apple?
A: I dont cum all over the golden delicious apple before I take a bite out of it.
Q: Whats the difference between a dead baby and my girlfriend?
A: I dont kiss my girlfriend after sex.
Q: Whats the difference between a dead baby and a table?
A: You cant fuck a table.
Q: Whats special about a dead baby over all other forms of life?
A: You can achieve deep throat from whichever way you enter.
Q: What do you have when you have four dead babies, take away two, and add five more?
A: An orgy!
Q: Whats better than three 14 year-olds?
A: 14 three year-olds.
Q: Whats white and bobs up and down in a babys crib?
A: A pdophiles ass.
Q: Whats the safest way to play with a baby?
A: With a condom.
Q: Whats more fun than feeling up a dead baby?
A: Feeling up a dead baby with three nipples.
Q: What does a baby and a Pinto have in common?
A: Theyre fun to ride until they die.
Q: What do you get whan you dislocate a dead babys jaw?
A: Deep throat.
Q: Whats the difference between a baby and a grandmother?
A: Grandmothers dont die when you fuck them in the ass.
Q: Whats the best sound in the world?
A: Hearing dead babys hips crack under pressure!
Q: Whats worse than a having sex with a dead baby?
A: Having sex with a dead baby filled with razor blades.
Q: How do you stop a baby from choking?
A: Take your dick out of its mouth.
Q: Whats worse than finding a dead baby on your pillow in the morning?
A: Realizing you were drunk and made love to it the night before.
Q: How do you make a baby cry twice?
A: Wipe your bloody cock on his teddy bear.
Whats better than sex with a twelve year-old boy?
Absolutely nothing.

- poopbot: lovely snot! wonderful snot!

The Amazing Nasa Lead Plate? (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869735)

Why not just a Bloody Great Chunk Of Metal that just whips along absorbing everything that hits it? Or is getting something that heavy into orbit too much hassle?

Amazing Nasa Lead Plate Of Kubrick/Clarke? (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869742)

(replying to myself because I hit send too quickly like the fool I am)

Massive bonus points to Nasa for naming it the Kubrick/Clarke debris sweeper, as its a blimmin' huge 1x4x9 block of black dense stuff.

'Handjob' (1)

Miklos (33666) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869736)

Wonder if this is entirely a cost without possibility of earning a buck or two.

If this is a cost only thing, shouldn't the countries/companies that have 'polluted' the 'area' pay for the cleaning themselves? If not I'll bet you that some distant russian company already offers this service if you are a youg popstar or you just are loaded with cash.

Force Fields? (1)

aeryn_sunn (243533) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869739)

Is There research or prototypes of Force Fields? As such in Science Fiction? Are Force Fields possible..and if so, how/what they work? If they were feasible, would this not be able to protect against debris?

what are some of the common protections/ideas used in sci fi against interstellar/orbital debris.

I think trying to locate every nut and bolt leftover in space is not feasible...and those small items are probably the most dangerous as they are difficult, if not impossible to detect...right?

Obvious! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869741)

Sharks with frikkin' lasers!

The answer is simple (1)

triaxcaribdis (566447) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869744)

Anyone ever seen 'Junkyard wars'/'Scrap heap challenge'? Just send the contestants up there and use the orbiting resources for their creations :-)

Re:The answer is simple (0)

Nakago4 (576970) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869889)

Your challenge today is to build a giant Space Sweeper!! Capable of cleaning up the entire orbital lanes of the earth!

Re:The answer is simple (1)

gazbo (517111) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869951)

Hehe - you'd have to be careful what team was sent if you valued anything in orbit at all.

In the trans-atlantic scrapheap challenge a couple of years ago the British champions took on the American champions to make a car crusher. The Brits built this elegant hydraulic ram system to precisely and slowly crush the car.

The Americans built a fucking big hammer. Says a lot about the two countries I think. Mind you, the Americans won so I shouldn't laugh too much.

Here it comes... (5, Funny)

JohnPM (163131) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869746)

Yes it's time for slashdotters to put their thinking caps on. I'm sure our geek aura will penetrate a problem that has had the best minds of the world's space agencies stumped for decades.

I await with glee the hoards of posts suggesting enormous ballistic inflatable penguins and fleets of linux powered robotic red swingline staplers. But what about prevention in the future? Easy, just make all space objects run Windows, that way they will crash themselves into the blue ocean of death eventually.

There, I've got it out of the way early so hopefully others won't need to.

Just because someone works for NASA... (1)

cnelzie (451984) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869825)


Doesn't mean that they are the best minds in the world. For example, there is a small organization called Mensa that has members from all walks of life. People that work professionally as doctors, computer programmers, GARBAGE MEN, TRUCK DRIVERS, Waiters and waitresses, not to mention janitors and a variety of other professions.

I can only imagine that you have run into people through your life that have a job or position that should belong to someone that appears to have more inteligence than a wart covered toad. However, even people with marginal inteligence are able to get jobs well above where they "should" be.

Plus, this is sort of the "Many-Eyes" concept that is commonly used in Open-Source Software, which has so far created a very stable, scalable Operating System, several beautiful and functional desktop environments and a variety of other software.

-.-

Re:Just because someone works for NASA... (1)

JohnPM (163131) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869848)

Just because someone works for NASA...Doesn't mean that they are the best minds in the world.

I couldn't agree more. That's why I never mentioned NASA. ;)
I said "the best minds of the world's space agencies" and made no reference to what the worst minds of those space agenciese might or might not be doing. Probably they are trying to work out what to do with the ISS...

Re:Here it comes... (1)

swaic (541592) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869861)


Sometimes when you need a few ideas, you need people who don't think like scientists and engineers. It's good to see what the "average" person will come up with. At least I think so.

Re:Here it comes... (1)

SnapShot (171582) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869990)

As an average person...

I think we should shoot at the space debris with huge machine guns; like those huge gatling guns on the from of the attack helecopters.

Garbage Definition (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869747)

my question is "How do they identify 'garbage'?"
If it's named Justin Timberlake, then it's a candidate.

Why send up a Tie Fighter or something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869748)

Just shoot it down

Don't make it worse (3, Insightful)

seosamh (158550) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869752)

Nowhere in the article do they discuss plans/methods to avoid making the problem worse. Shouldn't there be an international standard, at least among the ISS participants, for getting new space junk out of the way? A French satellite collided with remains of a French Arianne booster. Wouldn't it make sense now to define a standard procedure for ensuring that junk is sent on a destructive re-entry? If they use a verifiable method of ensuring destruction, it could help in assigning responsibility. And insurance companies could use that in assigning premiums (or littering fines ;>) on satellites, etc.

And while we are at it .. (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869786)

Wouldn't it make sense now to define a standard procedure for ensuring that junk is sent on a destructive re-entry?

How about writing legislation that says people can't litter. That'll keep the Earth clean. And maybe fine people for littering - that'll be a good incentive.

What do you mean that we already have that??

Re:And while we are at it .. (1)

seosamh (158550) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869834)

If insurance companies refused to insure your multi million-dollar venture for your refusal to clean up your litter, you'd think twice about the next scrap you'd leave behind to destroy someone else's multi-million dollar investment.

Countries don't leave mines floating in the open sea during peace time. They shouldn't leave the orbital equivalents in orbit. There are precedents for the necessary agreement(s) in international law.

Adhesive tape and a large hand (3, Funny)

Little Dave (196090) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869753)

When I was a young 'un, my mother used to cure the embarrassing problem of wool-bobbles on clothes by wrapping a hand in inverted adhesive tape (sticky side out) and running it bruskly over the surface of the affected garment. These days, the rise of the mighty Remmington Fuzzaway (tm) has largely rendered this practise useless.

I believe however, in consultation with my mother, that this might still be applied to the above problem. I propose a giant space hand, sheathed in cellotape and waved liberally about in orbit would be the best method.

shields, deflectors? (0)

Niksie3 (222515) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869757)

an electromagnetic shield (aka big magnet) should do the job, it will simply deflect all the incomming particles...

Distinguish between working and non working.. (1)

MontyP (26575) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869760)

There is bound to be some sort of RF admission or electrical noise that these LEO emit. Therefore, it would be possible to detect debris from which that is not. A garbage robot can sweep the area with sonar to detect leftover boosters; bolts, foot clamps or whatever else is up there. When the garbage holding area is full, the robot will destroy itself by falling into the ocean where the rightful owners can pick it up

Re:Distinguish between working and non working.. (1)

LBU.Zorro (585180) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869897)

SONAR!!! IN SPACE?????

Remember Sonar is SOUND waves being emitted and reflected off a target. SOUND requires a medium to travel, and space is, well a vacuum, hence the lack of ability to hear / make noise, and then famous saying, "In space, Nobody can hear you scream". Of course there is a very slight atmosphere, a few atoms per metre squared, but not enough to create a compression wave.

Z.

Nanotech is the answer (2)

Wonko42 (29194) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869762)

This would be a prime application for nanotechnology. Unfortunately, we haven't quite advanced that far yet. Even so, once the technology is available, it wouldn't be hard (or particularly costly) to release clouds of self-propelled (maybe even solar-powered) nanobots into orbit that would target orbital debris and disassemble it on a molecular level, using the resulting extra molecules to build more trash-seeking nanobots or, alternatively, simply dispersing the trash molecules over a large area, thus removing any threat presented to other spacecraft.

There's only one potential problem I can imagine with this scenario. We'd need to figure out how to teach the nanobots the difference between functional satellites and nonfunctional trash. It wouldn't be good at all if we suddenly found that our nanobots had accidentally disassembled all our low-orbit satellites.

Now that I think about it, though, it occurs to me that nanobots would most likely be very susceptible to solar radiation, which they wouldn't be protected from outside Earth's atmosphere. I wonder how hard it would be to construct radiation-shielded nanobots?

Re:Nanotech is the answer (2)

BenHmm (90784) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869773)

Even so, once the technology is available, it wouldn't be hard

Quite right. Also, once the technology is available, teleporting the debris to the centre of the sun wouldn't be that hard or costly either.

Re:Nanotech is the answer (2)

Wonko42 (29194) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869789)

The difference here (and this explains what I meant by that statement) is that in terms of nanotechnology, we already know exactly what we need to be able to do in order to build nanobots. The only thing limiting us right now is the difficulty involved in manipulating matter on the small scale required. However, advances in this field are being made at a very quick pace, and I'm confident we'll start seeing nanotechnology used widely within at least the next 25 years.

Re:Nanotech is the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869796)

oh I can't remember the plot didn't nanobots dissasemble red dwarf?

I think they went searhing for it only to find the
nanobots had reassembled it really really small and they were carring it around with them

Nanotbot .. Garbage (2, Interesting)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869813)

Hmmm .. so we send up a zillion nanobots who recycle all the debris into more nanobots .. end result is that we end up with a (zillion * mass of one nanobot) more stuff in orbit threatening the innocent space based weapons that are just minding their own business. This is worse than just leaving the garbage all alone.

You need to *remove* the garbage from orbit, not just transform it from one sort of item to another.

Now if they could all assemble together into one big nanobot ball as the process progresses, then that would be another thing. But if they are delicate little beasties, then I can't see that happening.

Re:Nanotbot .. Garbage (2)

Wonko42 (29194) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869845)

Er, nanobots are called nanobots for a reason. These things are tiny, microscopic. They can be small enough to manipulate individual atoms. If you printed out this comment, millions upon millions of nanobots could live in the period at the end of this sentence.

Now imagine these nanobots disassembling space debris into its component atoms and dispersing it. Instead of having, say, an old rocket booster casing that could do massive amounts of damage to an orbiting spacecraft, you now have trillions of individual, unconnected atoms that are being dispersed over a wide area. These dispersed atoms aren't even visible, and they certainly wouldn't do any damage to spacecraft. And that's the goal here.

Who cares if the actual atoms themselves remain in orbit, as long as they're dispersed enough that they can't hurt anything?

Re:Nanotech is the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869923)

Kinda, sorta.
Why do we have to wait for nanotech? As my posting collect with bots... mentions I agree with the general idea but we can do it with bots not much more advanced than the stuff already sold by the Basic Stamp folks [parallaxinc.com]now.
It seems to me that the best response to the radiation issue is to use the debris itself as shielding and deactivate any robot that fails some overall diagnostic. If checksum=foo then robot=raw materials.
Or then again, maybe we can get the Armadillo Aerospace folks interested and sell the rights to shoot the debris down. Hmmmm.
perfessor multigeek [mailto]

Re:Nanotech is the answer (3, Funny)

Quila (201335) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869933)

Been watching too much SG-1 lately? You know what happened to them, don't you? If NASA takes your idea, the Asgard are gonna be pissed.

doh! (-1)

cerskine (202611) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869765)

Boy, I really stink today. I forgot to put on any deodorant yesterday... doh! And then I didn't have time for a shower this morning. I feel like I should be hacking some new code into the linux kernel!

Hack it. (2)

DarkHelmet (120004) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869768)

"How do they identify 'garbage'?" - Would the ISS qualify?"

Oh dear God, that'd be the BEST! Imagine being able to hack a garbage collection satellite, and knock random satellites out of orbit.

Some people consider defacing Yahoo as having enough people see. Imagine having a flickering bright light fall over the city of your choice.

Damn I... uhhm, I can't wait to get my friend... ummm, yeah, my friend more information on how to hack... Ummm, yeah.

"How do they identify 'garbage'?" (1)

plaa (29967) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869770)

Everything for which there is no record of the object's orbit is garbage. I wonder how many military satellites that strategy would take out?

A lot of work (3, Interesting)

theolein (316044) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869774)

IIRC there are about 200 000 objects ranging from milimeter size pieces to fat chunks of metal in orbit around our planet. Someday one is going to take out a spacecraft or satellite or damage one seriously. Obviously, it is going to be a lot of work to get rid of these pieces of scrap. So my carefully thought out proposition ;)...
1.Catalogue them -- A database with all known objects and their orbits is the obvious first step
2.Build a sateliite with a relatively low power laser, charged by solar panels. An alternative would be a simple kind of large, thick metal "shield" that would simply get in the way of the space debris.
3.Place a ion engine on the craft.
4.Write software that would automatically select the nearest target from the db and move the satelite into position to evaporate or impact with the debris.
5.Very importantly, have an operator or command center that would be required by the software to OK each impact so that the satelite doesn't get misused or highjacked.
6.If using the satelite with a big metal "target shield", eventually the shield will become useless. It can be pushed into reentry by the ion engine and can then burn up on reentry, the ion engine then climbs back into normal orbit and is fitted out with a new shield by a drone rocket.
7.It will take many years but will start to show progress over time. Good that it will give the operators in the command center work and enable them to read books, playgames etc inbetween hits.

Re:A lot of work (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869795)

Lets just say that the laser would have to charge for a VERY long time if only solar panels powered it. (assuming you want to convert the garbage into gas)

Re:A lot of work (2)

Quila (201335) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869893)

An important extension to #4 is to not only calculate the route to the next piece of junk, but to calculate the lowest fuel consumption route through as many pieces as possible. Hitting the next one in the database may put you way far out for hitting the next one after that; maybe orbits will make that one more fuel efficient to hit somewhere down the line.

It's kind of like thinking ahead in billiards about where your ball will be after the shot.

Re:A lot of work (1)

swaic (541592) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869903)


Somehow I think the world will start freaking out if the US sends into space a satellite with a laser beam to shoot stuff and destroy it. It doesn't matter if it's to destroy junk in orbit. You already know what the media can do to a simple headline. Besides, what's to say the military doesn't get any ideas from this [slashdot.org] and sneak some backdoor capabilities into the satellite -- "just in case".

Re: Software algorithms (2)

Christopher Whitt (74084) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869924)

4.Write software that would automatically select the nearest target from the db and move the satelite into position to evaporate or impact with the debris.

Sounds a lot to me like the algorithms required would have a lot in common with some well-known CS research problems, like the moving of the head of a hard disk. I'm sure some existing knowledge could be applied, but the space junk problem could also be a source of new research money...

Christopher

Simple (2)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869776)

Take a sheet of metal, thick enough to withstand an impact from most pieces it will run into. On either side of the metal sheet, attach a few layers of mattresses or something similar. The metal would shoot through the mattress, hit the metal plate, lose most of its energy, and the pieces would generally get caught in the ricochet (if not the initial entry).

Send a bunch of these up and send them to the predicted "hot spots." Over a period of a few years, they could absorb quite a bit of material. Being low-tech, they're cheap to make. Costly to get into orbit because of the weight, but seems like it could be affordable enough.

Re:Simple (1)

LBU.Zorro (585180) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869913)

Actually thick metal is not the best way. They found that gap seperated thin sheets of metal can actually stop micro-meteorites much more easily, and much more lightly.

This occurs because when an item punches through a thin sheet of metal it actually causes the metal to flex and bend with the impact, kinda like pushing your finger through a sheet of clay, multiple layers of this actually absorb more energy than one single thick layer. (Hence the type of shielding on the apollo missions, and beyond I presume)

In your above scenario you would more likely have the metal fragment punch through your setup and create more debris, bits of matress and metal..

Z.

How would this work (1)

FiendBeast (461063) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869779)

The only way this would work would be if they could identify every satellite in orbit around the planet, which would be hard even if every satellite was American. Once you start thinking about the Russian, Chinese, European ones etc. it becomes more complicated, especially if you consider that probably some goverments won't want to tell the US what satelittes they have, and what they do. I bet that not all of the old Russian 'junk' up there is as useless as its supposed to be.

An collector in space is impractical (3, Insightful)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869783)

First off, any kind of collector device deployed in space is totally impractical. For one thing, the mass of the device could easily end up being equivalent or even greater than any debris collected. That is, you'd need as much or more propellant and material to grab the micrometeorites and garbage in the collection robot as the mass of the stuff being collected. This means you'd have to spend as much money on boosters as we spent putting junk in orbit over the past 40 years. That's a lot of money...

Why launch anything into orbit at all? A far better solution would be to build a powerful enough ground based laser system to convert the garbage into vapor. It would be cheaper, as you would not have to spend vast sums of money trying to minimize failures (if the laser on the ground breaks, you get out tools and fix it. If the orbital robot breaks you just blew a lot of money). To detect the rapidly moving orbital debris you would need an extremely high resolution radar...at least one of the X band things being build in Alaska.

The laser would be an array of linear accelerators in parallel (or cyclotrons) that would accelerate electrons that would release the energy in the beam. (A free electron laser) Such lasers are inherently very efficient, and the system would only use electric power that could be obtained off an ordinary power grid (a LOT of electric power...you'd need some sort of temporary storage perhaps giant rotating drums or something)

And the best part? A multi-megawatt laser array, capable of hitting extremely small fast moving targets with enough power to vaporize them...

Certainly the Pentagon could think of a use for one of those.

Say, missile defense?

Such a system would be FAR more reliable than a rocket booster interceptor that has THOUSANDS of possible points of failure. If the wrong part fails, the booster fails. With a parallel array of lasers if one fails its no big deal. In addition, given enough power it would be able to vaporize all the incoming targets, decoys and bits of insulation and all.

My favourite solution (2)

WolfWithoutAClause (162946) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869787)

Move a few big asteroids into low earth orbit. That way everytime it goes around its gravity would give any debris a small kick. This will change the orbital eccentricity, and after a while the debris will intersect the atmosphere and reenter.

Moving asteroids isn't that hard, although care is needed to ensure you don't reenter it. An asteroid big enough to make this work would be big enough to wipe out all life on earth- so be careful out there guys. ;-)

Re:My favourite solution (2)

SuperCal (549671) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869814)

If NASA does this, they are gonna hafta watch those english/metric conversions.

Just need a sign (2, Funny)

saphena (322272) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869797)

Why not just put up a sign that says "No littering"?

All those I've seen on Earth are surrounded by empty drink cans, cigarette packs, discarded condoms, etc. Maybe the effect also works in space.

Lasers! (2)

SuperCal (549671) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869798)

After I thought about this carefully I've come the conclusion that Lasers are cool and we should use them in space for any purpose we can find for them even if the application is less than ideal. Now I have a good reason for this. When ever NASA uses a big freak'n laser its bound to be front page news. If NASA can get the public ooh'ing over the neat stuff maybe they can get the funding to do some really cool stuff. Yes, I'm kidding.

Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869806)

1. Attach an extra module to the ISS.
2. Put a huge-ass electromagnet in it.
3. Use magnet to attract debris like old satellites, empty booster fuel tanks, Russian spacecraft and GPS satellites.
4. Strap a booster to the ISS.
5. Use booster to de-orbit ISS.
6. Watch it re-enter and burn up.
7. Cheer.

Why would you want to catch it? (1)

clickety6 (141178) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869812)


All the answers so far seem to involve some sort of capture mechanism to absorb the debris which limits the lifetime of the capturing device (unless we orbit a mini-blackhole?). Would it be more efficient to deflect the debris out of orbit, either into space and away, or into the atmosphere so it burnt up safely? Perhaps by attaching a ginat space plow to the shuttle and gettingt eh guys to cruise around for a while? :-)

Where's Wilco when you need him!?! (5, Funny)

rasjani (97395) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869835)

I think NASA should hire Roger Wilco to clean up the mess. He has excellent CV for this kind of stuff..

Nitpick (2, Informative)

JohnPM (163131) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869841)

Carbon nanotubes have become a hot item of discussion across all fields of engineering because, in part, the cylinders constructed from hexagonal links of carbon atoms are believed to be perhaps the strongest manmade material.

That should be "strongest material fullstop". The inference to natural materials can only be referring to spider silk. Spider dragline silk has a tensile strength comparable to steel, but will stretch 35% without breaking. It seems steel can achieve up to about 5 Gpa in tensile strength depending on quality, etc. Carbon nanotube fibres [nasa.gov] are expected to be in the hundreds of Gpa.

There is a cautious belief amongst materials scientists that carbon nanotubes may in fact be the strongest substance possible in terms of tensile strength.

A great overview of nanotubes as a construction material can be found in Bradley Edward's Space Elevator manuscript [usra.edu]. See also the slashdot discussion [slashdot.org] about it.

Not an idea, but a thought... (1)

taliver (174409) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869844)

Not all orbits around Earth need to be checked. Most orbits are low enough, and they degrade over time, and thus there's not a big issue for garbage collection.

However, in geosyncronous orbits, there's another problem. We've been using these orbits ever since we started sending satellites up there, and this part of space is filled with little rivits, rocket boosters, etc. The good news is, that even though they are in orbit, they are moving at pretty much the same speed as everything near them (we're mainly looking at the Geo-syncronous orbits here, therefore everybody stays above their little piece of the equator.

Now, here's my way-stupid idea:

Send up a big steel ball. Now, have it plow through the geo sycronous orbits and knock everything it can out of it's way. All active satellites would have to move out of the orbit breifly, and then once the "Mr. Space Plow" passed, they could resume their orbits. If they can't respond... Well, that's just too damn bad.

Once out of the nice geosyncronous orbits, the trash does one of two things: degrade and crash to Earth, or escapes. Either was, problem solved.

"how to define garbage" (1)

jedie (546466) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869867)

You could equip all future spacecraft with a transmitter that would send out a message in certain intervals.
When a robot encounters something, it will first have to verify whether it has a "space-signature-signal" (or some other catchy name).
If the object it encounters keeps radio silence (no signature? it's presumably something dead) the robot would have to send a message of it's own to the craft ("Anybody in there?").
The object receiving this message should reply to this, if it doesn't it's getting much more closer to being classified as "junk".
Now if the object would fail the second (redundant) test, the Robot is to send visual feedback to earth of the object ("look guys, this thing seems dead enough allright!").
Here it should be analyzed by 2 or more different agencies, in different countries (I say Russia, USA, China, France) this would help avoid all political hassle.
Then if the majority (or all) of the agencies give permission, the junk could dropped back in destructive orbit or shot to smithereens with a supercool megalaser!

You might want to bring up the dangers of doing this:

  • The robot could go berzerk
  • Some 3v1l h4x0r terrorist might send up fake signals, thus destroying a shutlle with astronauts in it :'(
  • A war or political unease between 2 countries with agencies
  • ...

This is definitly not a foolproof system, but it's as close as you get imo: the robot does a triple check (first check for the signal from the craft, if it's not there request a signal, if it's not there ask permission from independent earth agencies by sending visual feedback) and it could be equipped with a remote shutdown system, so that IF it goes crazy somehow, we could zap it from earth (to be cleaned up by a colleague)

well... my 2 cents :)

Salvage the materials!!!! (2)

sydbarrett74 (74307) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869868)

Why has no-one proposed this obvious solution? Recycle the materials that we have launched into space. The other proposed solutions aren't environmentally friendly. We've already sullied our planet. There's no need to likewise sully interplanetary space with our detritus.

Attach a big whistle to the front of the craft. (1)

bareman (60518) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869870)

It helps keep deer from running in front of your car (http://www.xp3hornet.com/faq.shtml) maybe it'd keep trash away from the front of your space craft?

Hey, there shouldn't be any trash/dirt floating out there anyway, I mean...

SPACE IS A VACUUM!!! Right?!?!

Thermonuclear devices (1)

invid (163714) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869871)

First, clear out a sector of orbital space on a given date and time. Anything that can't clear itself out is too weak to survive and will be considered space junk.

Second, send up a large thermonuclear device to that sector.

Third, detonate said device, incinerating all space junk or sending it out of orbit or sending it into the atmosphere.

It will make star gazing a little more interesting.

An old idea... (1)

atcurtis (191512) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869873)


I'm sure I read this idea in some Sci-Fi novel, either from Arthur C Clarke or Issac Asimov... But...

Have a viscous gel which is stable in a vacuumb (or near vacuumb) and contain it in some sac - probably made of synthetic silk. this sac is maintained in position by a collection of redundant independent thrusters attached to several point of the sac.

Debris would penetrate the sac and be immobolised in the gel. This sac and its contents can be disposed of (fire it to the moon?) oand a new sac attached to the thrusters.

collect the debris with bots and use it as mass (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869874)

On the garbage "scowl" front,

Let's turn that space debris to raw materials. Clean up LEO, cut down the amount of stuff that needs to be hauled up the gravity well, and make money doing it.

Build a system of robots that finds debris, cuts it up, hauls it to a refuse station, and reduces it to a reusable form.

You use three types of robots.

Many small mobile bots (solar powered and ion-engine driven) find space debris and boost it to collecting spots.

The second type chops up debris and boosts it to stable higher orbits. More of the second type intersect at the higher orbit and bring debris to the third type, which

vaporizes the debris (no big deal in space with unlimited solar power and no atmosphere), charges the vapor, and shoots the charged vapor down a long tube with a magnetic system designed to act like a big mass spectrometer, separating the vapor by composition and leaving hunks of iron, silicon, etc.

Or use a low tech but more high maintenance design and spin the stuff to separate it. Either way you've got raw materials enough to say, triple the speed they're building the ISS with even the junk materials usable for shielding.

Seems to me that this system could be built by graduate students from a school like Carnegie-Mellon for five or six million dollars, tops.

Notes:If you think that solar power is too wimpy consider that with two or three hundred collectors in orbit it's no big deal if it takes a given collector six months to bring in a load. Also, the collectors can be programmed to keep a bit of debris and coat themselves in it, protecting them from radiation and prolonging their own useful life. Give the collectors swappable boards and perhaps a two year board replacement cycle and they should last for at least a decade each.

As for how to get them up there armadillo aerospace and the like are more than capable of boosting plenty of small payloads to low earth orbit in the near future. Chances are the toughest issue would be the legal fooforah of who owns the abandoned gear. Guaranteed that as soon as people figure out that their dead telsat has market value LLoyds will be fighting the salvage declaration.

So, if anybody wants to do this, look me up.
Rustin H. Wright
Information Geek, former inventor, founder and publisher, Reed&Wright

pubgeek@netscape.net

Military Purpose (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869881)

Is the desire for a cleanup related to this [wsj.com] Wall Street journal article (registration required) where scientists are warning that a missle defense program, and a resulting space-war, could fill earth's orbit with debris, making space research/travel impossible? Is the concern here, that we be able to cleanup space after a war, and not clean it up now?

Ceramics... (1)

hofer (84209) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869886)

  • New radar systems, saucer-like hull patch kits and new ceramic shielding are being brought into the effort and more exotic solutions are in the offing.

OK. So in a couple of years instead of aluminium we will have unburnable, unbreakable, uneverything debris up there. And then these would survive even reentry and hit the surface overheated at a couple of thousand km/h...

"Ceramic flying saucer leaves burn marks on vegetable field. Farmer sells Space-Fried Vegetables at discounted prices."

Bring it back to earth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3869906)

Strictly speaking, it should all be recovered and brought back to earth, to keep the mass of stuff of earth constant.

Let them be sued out of existence (1)

MacGod (320762) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869916)

Most of that debris came from copyrighted technologies, yet pretty much anyone could go up and use the debris. Clearly, this is a violation of the RIAA's and MPAA's rights. Let's just get them to sue the debris into submission. Hell, this is practically a P2P sharing system (one person buys the technologies, everyone has access to it without extra cost).

Let's have the DMCA do some good for a change!

What do you mean 'How would they ID garbage?' (1, Informative)

DirkDaring (91233) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869944)

NASA and other agencies are already tracking all the junk. The problem isn't tracking and ID'ing the junk. The problem is getting it.

Dirk

Do you want an interplexing beacon with that? (1)

bovril (260284) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869953)

A deflector [nasa.gov] seems to be the obvious choice. With a huge advantage being that you can modify it to do practically anything.

And a side order of inverse tachyon pulses?

Is orbital debris statistical info available? (2)

Christopher Whitt (74084) | more than 11 years ago | (#3869985)

It would be easier to come up with potential solutions if some of the statistical information that the US Space Command has on debris orbits were available. On the other hand, I would imagine that the researchers who are being paid to work on this problem have full access to that information.

Christopher

Enthropy approach (0)

Omega Prime (265024) | more than 11 years ago | (#3870004)

By launching spheres packed full of ball bearings and explosives we could surly hope to....

wait, we did this already

nevermind

Incorporate tracking devices on all satellites (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#3870011)

Shortwave radar tracks ever bit of dust larger than a given size and transmits it back to a central database on earth. Eventually the database will contain useful information for all popular orbits.

database could then be integrated into an autoavoidance system.
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