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Astronauts Throw Trash Into Space

Hemos posted more than 7 years ago | from the out-of-sight-out-of-our-gravity-well dept.

138

MattSparkes writes "The International Space Station is home to an increasing amount of unwanted goods, and NASA has just approved a policy where these could be thrown out of the door into space. 'Tools and other gear have accidentally floated away during spacewalks. But NASA has shied away from intentionally jettisoning gear off the ISS in the past because of the threat of space junk hitting the station or other spacecraft.' The loosening of the rules on this comes just as Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin is about to take a space walk where he will hit a golf ball from the ISS in a promotional stunt for a golf company."

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Pigs in space (5, Funny)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821816)

It starts with a piece of trash and quickly turns into a terrible neighborhood. Next thing you know, it'll be the International Space Crackhouse.

I told you we shouldn't have let those Russians in.

Re:Pigs in space (2, Insightful)

MattSparkes (950531) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821840)

The Russians are playing nice in space, it's all golf for them. It's the Americans who'll be throwing trash around!

Re:Pigs in space (1)

fbjon (692006) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823902)

I prefer having some papers blow into my windshield rather than golfballs at orbital speed, thank you.


Says Mikhail Tyurin: "Fore!"

Re:Pigs in space (1)

quanticle (843097) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824734)

Kinetic energy is measured as (1/2)mv^2. At orbital speed, your velocity is so high that it really doesn't matter whether you hit paper, golf balls, or stray bolts. Whatever you hit will be going fast enough to cause damage.

Re:Pigs in space (1)

CodeMonkey4Hire (773870) | more than 7 years ago | (#16826926)

Of course it's the relative velocities that matter, so... not so much.

Re:Pigs in space (1)

BigBuckHunter (722855) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822078)

Next thing you know, it'll be the International Space Crackhouse.

Since there's an IHOP within 3 blocks of every crackhouse that I know of, this is really a blessing in disguise.
BBH

Re:Pigs in space (4, Funny)

Sporkinum (655143) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822204)

International Space Crackhouse.

Ground control to Major Tom....

Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (3, Insightful)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821854)

and criminal.

They could pack their trash and, with minimal thrust, send it on a quick reentry path in which it will burn in higher atmosphere a few days or weeks later. On the other hand, if they just dump things at random, they may be their own victims mounthes to years later.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (4, Insightful)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821960)

They could pack their trash and, with minimal thrust, send it on a quick reentry path in which it will burn in higher atmosphere a few days or weeks later.


Exactly, there is no reason not to incinerate their trash. I can't believe this is 2006, people have been going into space for more than 40 years now [wikipedia.org] , and they still are throwing trash overboard even though [nasa.gov] they know the danger [nationalgeographic.com] . Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (4, Insightful)

SysKoll (48967) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822458)

They could pack their trash and, with minimal thrust, send it on a quick reentry path in which it will burn in higher atmosphere a few days or weeks later.

Yeah, because see, all these rocket scientists, they are well known for bein' stoopid. Ain't that a shame to pollute them purty stars.

SARCASM_MODE=OFF

If all you needed to deorbit something thrown from the ISS was a "small amount of thrust", don't you think that atmospheric drag would have already deorbitted the ISS itself?

In order to deorbit something, you need a very considerable amount of thrust, with an engine and propellant brought up from Earth at enormous cost. Left to its own device, a low-density object such as a bag of trash is going to slowly lose altitude due to atmospheric drag, then burn. No need for propellants. Good old air envelope does the trick.

As for reusing it, I'm afraid that a sizeable fraction of the trash is, er, astronaut dung. I doubt the reuse value of human waste is very high in space, until we have complete hydroponic gardens.

there is no reason not to incinerate their trash.

Incinerate? Whaaa?? Look, this is space, ok? Having a simple combustion chamber working in space would be a major, major physics achievement. There is no convection, so flames don't behave as expected. There are whole experiments studying a simple candle flame in space.

Never mind the fact that you'd need oxygen and fuel, brought from Earth at enormous cost, to burn wet waste.

The only way to incinerate things in space practically would be with a electric plasma arc, which in turn would requires a really large energy input. So until the ISS flies several isotope generators, there will be no such thing.

Remember, these decisions are made by people who actually know what's going on. The only problem is that they obviously don't communicate their reasons, since Slashdot readers -- Slashdot readers! -- feel compelled to call them stupid.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822666)

Having a simple combustion chamber working in space would be a major, major physics achievement.

So the moon landings really were a hoax?

Gee, next you'll be saying that rockets can't work in space because "there's no air for them to push against."

And, btw, the ISS does have to be nudged on occasion, because its orbit DOES decay with time due to drag.

A solar sail could safely deorbit junk at minimal cost.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

The Mysterious X (903554) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823682)

I believe the point he is trying to make is, in space there is no up or down. Gravity is not there to move cold air down and warm air up, so flames will... actually, I have no idea what they will do. If I had to guess, I would say that they wouldn't burn very fast at all.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824194)

There's gravity in space. Otherwise, the space station would just shoot off away from earth, instead of orbiting it.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

SysKoll (48967) | more than 7 years ago | (#16827554)

A rocket is not a closed combustion chamber. You are not trying to burn wet waste in an oven, you are generating hot gases -- by burning some hypergolic mix or some solid propellant. Different things.

Amazingly little is known about how a standing fire (as opposed to a burning jet of gases) behaves in low gravity. See for example http://microgravity.grc.nasa.gov/fcarchive/combust ion/papers/Sacksteder/Solid_Surface_Combustion.htm [nasa.gov] . Thus, any process requiring a standing fire in low grav is not a practical method (yet). And of course, you don't want to waste fuel on burning waste.

A solar sail could safely deorbit junk at minimal cost.

Or you could just leave it float around until it drags down to a low orbit... Not sure about the low cost. Solar sails are still highly experimental.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (2, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822832)

You really shouldn't pick apart a piece of someone's text at a time. You're taking what he said out of context.

When he said 'incinerate their trash', it sounds to me like he meant to use the atmosphere to incinerate it. No need for any equipment for that.

As for the little thrust... A person could throw it with the hand towards the earth and have more than enough 'thrust' to 'deorbit' it. Orbit is a VERY precarious balancing act. Just a little higher or lower, faster or slower and you lose it. Throwing the trash back the way they just came from would have the same result as throwing it toward the earth: Faster re-entry.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (2, Informative)

roystgnr (4015) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823556)

A person could throw it with the hand towards the earth and have more than enough 'thrust' to 'deorbit' it. Orbit is a VERY precarious balancing act. Just a little higher or lower, faster or slower and you lose it.

No, you don't lose it (otherwise every little tidal perturbation would be knocking satellites from the sky), you just change it. To actually immediately leave orbit from the ISS you'd need more than 100m/s delta V, which you're not going to get from someone throwing a bag of trash by hand even if they're not in a bulky space suit.

So the plan here isn't to throw trash out of orbit, it's to throw it into a slightly lower orbit and let atmospheric drag eventually do the rest. They seem to be relying on the fact that if the trash doesn't break into many small pieces, there's only a tiny probability of it hitting anything during the hundreds of orbits before drag finally wins. Well, best of luck to them, but I'd hate to be the decisionmaker responsible for any accidents.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823960)

Oh, it's a horrid, horrid idea, I'll agree with you there. But I think they are thinking what you just said: Throw it into a lower orbit and let the atmosphere take over. This could obviously take quite a while if insufficient force is applied.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

camg188 (932324) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825150)

Wait a minute. What you are saying seems to defy common sense. In space, if you throw an object, it will continue in that direction until resistance is met. So, if the space station is 220 to 250 miles out in orbit and you throw or eject a package of trash toward the earth at 20 miles per hour (that seems reasonably simple). The package would travel 220 to 250 miles in 11 to 12.5 hours. It would be incinerated well before that. Am I missing something? Is there some principle of physics that would cause it's descent to slow as it's orbit decreased? It seems to me, that it would speed up if anything.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (3, Interesting)

roystgnr (4015) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825882)

Wait a minute. What you are saying seems to defy common sense.

Yup, orbital mechanics will do that. It starts with "if you want to go faster, slow down" and just gets weirder from there.

In space, if you throw an object, it will continue in that direction until resistance is met.

Only if its orbital velocity is negligable compared to the velocity you throw it at; otherwise it's direction will change constantly under the influence of gravity.

So, if the space station is 220 to 250 miles out in orbit and you throw or eject a package of trash toward the earth at 20 miles per hour (that seems reasonably simple). The package would travel 220 to 250 miles in 11 to 12.5 hours. It would be incinerated well before that. Am I missing something? Is there some principle of physics that would cause it's descent to slow as it's orbit decreased? It seems to me, that it would speed up if anything.

If you throw your trash toward the Earth at 20 miles per hour, the trash won't be moving at 20 miles per hour, it will still be moving at approximately 11,000 miles per hour; its velocity will just have changed direction by about a tenth of a degree. Its new orbit will now be slightly elliptical, but it still won't be elliptical enough to intersect thick atmosphere.

You're right that the trash will speed up as it gets closer to Earth... and as it speeds up, the centrifugal force required to keep it moving closer to Earth increases, gravity can't keep up, and the trash moves outwards again.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824600)

You really shouldn't pick apart a piece of someone's text at a time. You're taking what he said out of context.

Yes, leave it to the professionals: Usenetters.

As for the little thrust... A person could throw it with the hand towards the earth and have more than enough 'thrust' to 'deorbit' it. Orbit is a VERY precarious balancing act. Just a little higher or lower, faster or slower and you lose it. Throwing the trash back the way they just came from would have the same result as throwing it toward the earth: Faster re-entry.

Keeping in mind that if you throw mass away from the station towards Earth, you're also throwing the station a little further away from the Earth. Action, opposite reaction you see. Like throwing a basketball while standing on a skateboard.

Trash ejection times should coincide with times you'd want to boost the station's orbit to counteract orbital drag.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

SysKoll (48967) | more than 7 years ago | (#16827504)

A person could throw it with the hand towards the earth and have more than enough 'thrust' to 'deorbit' it. Orbit is a VERY precarious balancing act. Just a little higher or lower, faster or slower and you lose it.

Aladrin,

Deorbiting almost always means "leaving orbit and reaching the surface". That's not the same as "changing orbit". You are right when you say an orbit is precarious: by definition, a few more meters per second will give you a slighly different orbit, with differences accumulating quickly as time passes.

To leave the ISS orbit and return to Earth, you need a delta-V of several kilometer/second. In practice, once you reach a low enough orbit, atmo drag will quickly brake you, so you "only" need to produce a delta-V of a few hundreds to a few thousands meter/second to reach such a low altitude. That's what deorbiting means.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (2, Informative)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823010)

Hmmmm... I love the smell of a flame war early in the morning...
Yeah, because see, all these rocket scientists, they are well known for bein' stoopid. Ain't that a shame to pollute them purty stars.


Let me help you understand what's at stake here. This quote is from the TFA, that you obviously haven't read:

Tools and other gear have accidentally floated away during spacewalks. But NASA has shied away from intentionally jettisoning gear off the ISS in the past because of the threat of space junk hitting the station or other spacecraft. Even tiny flecks of paint have cracked the windows of the space shuttle orbiter because they zoom around Earth at thousands of kilometres per hour.


Total cost of the ISS (so far): close to US$35 billions (source [www.abo.fi] ). The collective face NASA is going to make when the ISS is made unusable by some medium-sized space junk: priceless. Added points for the irony of being hit by space junk that comes from the ISS itself. So, yes, allow me to say it again: throwing junk overboard without thrusting is bad policy, and it is stupid.

If all you needed to deorbit something thrown from the ISS was a "small amount of thrust", don't you think that atmospheric drag would have already deorbitted the ISS itself?


Oh wait, are you talking about the same ISS that needs an extra orbital boost [sciencedaily.com] from time to time due to atmospheric drag? Hmmm... Interesting... That means the ISS is slowly being dragged toward the earth. Amazing, isn't it? Who would have thought?

In order to deorbit something, you need a very considerable amount of thrust, with an engine and propellant brought up from Earth at enormous cost. Left to its own device, a low-density object such as a bag of trash is going to slowly lose altitude due to atmospheric drag, then burn. No need for propellants. Good old air envelope does the trick.


Which, of course, is in complete contradiction with what you just wrote about the ISS, right? Oh well, what's a few inconsistencies between friends? Besides, the goal is precisely to avoid filling the Earth outer space with dangerous, slow moving bags of trash. If you had read TFA, you would know that the golf ball that was to be putted by a russian cosmonaut is no danger, precisely, because hitting that little golf ball with a gold club is enough to send into the atmosphere, where it will burn harmlessly. Which, again, completely contradicts your previous statement that it takes a lot of thrust to de-orbit trash.

On the other hand, the real heart of the matter is, of course, that even if there is never another rocket launch, the outer space around the Earth will be filled with junk until at least 2055:

The model predicts that even without future rocket or satellite launches, the amount of debris in low orbit around Earth will remain steady through 2055, after which it will increase.


That was one [nationalgeographic.com] of the the links I posted. But, let me guess: you did not read any of these either, right?

(me)there is no reason not to incinerate their trash. Incinerate? Whaaa?? Look, this is space, ok?


Fine, that sentence should have been: ... there is no reason not to incinerate their trash IN THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE . Happy? I may sound dumb, but I am not THAT dumb, thankyouverymuch.

As for reusing it, I'm afraid that a sizeable fraction of the trash is, er, astronaut dung. I doubt the reuse value of human waste is very high in space, until we have complete hydroponic gardens.


Still, there is no reason not to burn it in the upper atmosphere. Frozen human dung, travelling at high speed around the earth, is enough to inflict huge damage to anything Besides, here is a proposal: human feces, like a lot of feces out there, generate methane. Why not harness that small amount of methane to propel said "dung" back into the Earth atmosphere? This way, we get the best of both worlds: trash burning in the atmosphere, at no propellant cost to the ISS (free velocity escape, yeah!), and reducing the amount of (dangerous) space junk in outer space. Happy?

All in all, I find your arguments weak, ill-informed and sometimes illogical. You get an F. Now go back under your bridge, little troll.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

Ruzty (46204) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824512)

Besides, here is a proposal: human feces, like a lot of feces out there, generate methane. Why not harness that small amount of methane to propel said "dung" back into the Earth atmosphere?

Because the methane is produced when the dung biodegrades. The microbes that perform this function are severly hampered by being frozen solid. So, unless you're proposing building a methane capture and concentration unit on the ISS as well as supplying enough O2 required for combustion of the methane, your proposal is fairly infeasible.
-Rusty

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16824642)

Added points for the irony of being hit by space junk that comes from the ISS itself. So, yes, allow me to say it again: throwing junk overboard without thrusting is bad policy, and it is stupid.

How is the ISS going to be hit by something jettisoned from the ISS? Is there some magical boomerang property acquired by carrier bags full of astronaut shit that I am not aware of?

If you're going to get all nit picky, you might do well to make sure you don't come off sounding like a retard yourself.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

tocs (866673) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824592)

"don't you think that atmospheric drag would have already deorbitted the ISS itself?"

The ISS is in low Earth orbit and does experience atmospheric drag. There is no reason to think trash thrown out would not de orbit in time. How much time, I do not know.

From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]
"The space station is located in orbit around the Earth at an altitude of approximately 360 km (220 miles), a type of orbit usually termed low Earth orbit (The actual height varies over time by several kilometres due to atmospheric drag and reboosts)."

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

SysKoll (48967) | more than 7 years ago | (#16827424)

The ISS is in low Earth orbit and does experience atmospheric drag. There is no reason to think trash thrown out would not de orbit in time. How much time, I do not know.

We agree. The atmospheric drag is very perceptible at this LEO altitude. Hence, low density packages expelled from the ISS will eventually drop and burn. But it will take time: the delta-V is not THAT small.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825628)

In order to deorbit something, you need a very considerable amount of thrust, with an engine and propellant brought up from Earth at enormous cost.

Actually, all you need is a ribbon [nasa.gov] .

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

dougmc (70836) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825300)

I can't believe this is 2006, people have been going into space for more than 40 years now, and they still are throwing trash overboard even though they know the danger. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
It's not stupid at all.

ISS is in a rare (unique?) position as far as satellites go -- it's very low, only about 200 miles up. At this altitude, atmosphere drag is a signifigant force, and will make sure that any trash let out of the ISS will not stay in the vicinity of the ISS for long. If you were to push a bit of trash out of the back of the ISS, there's basically zero chance that it could ever hit the ISS, as it would slowly lose altitude and eventually burn up in the atmosphere. And there's nothing below the ISS to hit except for shuttles coming up to it, and that's easily managed. (Perhaps by dumping all your trash only when over a specific area of the planet?)

Also, relative to the ISS, any trash they do let out will have very little relative velocity. What NASA is really worried about regarding debris in space isn't a wrench hitting the ISS at 0.5 m/s -- it's a wrench (or something else) hitting the ISS at 10,000 m/s -- but that's not a concern if the wrench CAME from the ISS.

If you ask me, dumping the trash overboard is a good idea for economic reasons -- but only because the ISS's low orbit ensures that it won't stay up for long. If we put a space station in geosychnronous or geostationary orbit, simply throwing your trash out the door would be a very poor policy -- it would stay up there with you forever.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

dougmc (70836) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825460)

(Perhaps by dumping all your trash only when over a specific area of the planet?)
Just in case anybody gets the wrong idea from this, the trash won't *stay* over that specific area of the planet. Instead, it'll orbit along with the ISS, slowly losing altitude and drifting away (I imagine that initially it would drift behind the ISS, but as it lost altitude and fell into a lower altitude it would get ahead of the ISS.) The rate of altitude loss would vary depending on the drag and weight of each piece of trash.

In any event, as long as the velocity and position (relative to the Earth, including altitude) of the ISS is approximately the same at each trash dump, the trash would take similar paths down, and NASA could easily calculate this path and keep track of it. (And for the larger bits of trash, NORAD could track them via RADAR.) There would be an ever increasing error in the paths of their calculcated (not measured) paths of trash, but I imagine they could be accurate enough to be able to launch the shuttle to avoid possible (but incredibly unlikely) collisions.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

Vihai (668734) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822252)

They could pack their trash and, with minimal thrust, send it on a quick reentry path

Can you quantify this "minimal thrust" ?

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822504)

No, I can't do the math. But considering that they would only have to help gravitation instead of fighting against it, I'm still sure of my words.

The ISS is globally on an almost stable orbit, requiring some thrust from time to time to make up for the light air friction. From that position, if you eject the trash at only a few m/s in the right direction, it will soon go down to altitudes where the air friction will be higher, be slowed down from its orbital speed and fall. Since you don't want a controled rentry, all you need is a small initial kick in the right direction to remove it from the ISS orbit and friction and gravity will then do the hard work.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

Apocalypse111 (597674) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823278)

Its that very gravitation that is keeping them in orbit - its not flying, its falling with style. In orbital dynamics, speed and altitude are linked. Geo-sychronous orbit is not a function of simply sitting at the same spot over a point on earth, you have to be at the right altitude for it to work. In order for you to de-orbit something, you have to apply a non-trivial amount of force in the opposite direction, causing it to slow, which will cause its orbit to decay. This force has to be some significant fraction of the speed you are currently travelling in order for the trash to de-orbit in the near future, and not decades from now. Simply leaning out an airlock and hurling it towards the planet is not enough.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

nahdude812 (88157) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824282)

IANARS, but Newton tells us that giving the debris a small boost toward Earth would add the same momentum to them in the opposite direction. Meaning that this would interfere with their orbit a bit, which would have to be corrected with thrusters (though they could probably also time their debris ejection with a time that they need outward thrust to maintain their orbit anyway).

Even still, terminal velocity would be reached on this trash before it had entered very far into the atmosphere. By Nasa's space debris FAQ page, this debris could then remain in orbit anywhere from a year to decades (depending on how much thrust they applied to it). They want to minimize the amount of debris they eject in general just because all of it is a liability until it actually descends far enough into the atmosphere to pick up enough speed and friction to burn up. Even then they record an average of one piece of debris striking terra firma every day. Most strikes the oceans or some of the wide open spaces (such as Canadian tundra), but it would not be good for someone's home to be crushed by descended orbital debris.

Most of this info is gleaned from Nasa's space debris pages. They're a bit smarter than me =).

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824790)

Simple orbital mechanics. If you impart a momentary thrust to an object in orbit, then the new orbit will intersect the old orbit at two points. One intersection will be at the point where the thrust was imparted, and the other intersection will be at the opposite (antipodal) point in the orbit.

What that means is that if you throw a piece of trash overboard, it's going to come back and hit you again on the other side of your orbit, at the same speed you threw it overboard.

I mean, DUH, didn't anybody every place Space Wars here?

If you want to put the trash into a new orbit which doesn't have any intersections with the old orbit, you're going to need at least two momentary thrusts to the trash, which means you have to waste a rocket engine and a guidance system. Maybe that could be a simple one, like a model rocket engine and spin stabilization, but you need SOMETHING else besides the initial push away from the station to avoid a possible collision.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (4, Interesting)

SirCyn (694031) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822964)

IANARS!
Having an astronaut literally throw a typical size bag of trash toward the Earth would be sufficient acceleration (or deceleration depending on your point of view) to cause it to burn up within a couple weeks. And better yet it would instantly be in a non-intersecting orbit with the ISS.

In the past they haven't done this because it will cause the ISS to be accelerated into a higher orbit. The difference would be minimal, but certainly measurable. The ISS is not very well equipped to deal with such problems (remember that it is technically falling all the time normally). Apparently NASA has decided that this effect is minimal enough that it would not be detrimental to the ISS orbit.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (4, Informative)

Mindwarp (15738) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823482)

Actually, no. If an astronaut were to throw a bag of trash 'downwards' towards the Earth then its orbital velocity relative to the space station would increase (since it is moving into a lower orbit) so it would start to overtake the space station below it. As the orbital velocity increases it would start to again climb to a higher orbit, passing above the space station in front of it. As it gained a higher orbit than the space station its orbital velocity relative to the ISS would drop, causing the trash to drop to a lower orbit. In summary, if you throw anything out of the ISS down towards the Earth it will in fact pull a complete loop and end up impacting the top of the ISS.

There is only one safe direction to throw anything out of an orbiting spacecraft - backwards, in the opposite direction of your orbit. By doing this you reduce the orbital velocity of the object relative to your spacecraft thereby guaranteeing that the object will enter a lower orbit from which it is guaranteed not to climb. At this point atmospheric drag will continue to degrade the objects orbit until it eventually burns up.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

fbjon (692006) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823930)

The golfballs will be hit in that very direction, and are estimated to burn up in 3 days.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (3, Funny)

RingDev (879105) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824070)

hope he doesn't slice it!

-Rick

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

roseblood (631824) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825522)

The parent poster obviously has read some Larry Niven (The Smokering perhaps?)

Down is faster. Up is slower. Forward is up. Backwards is down.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

RancidBeef (412397) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824110)

Um, no, the orbit of the trash would intersect the ISS's orbit twice a day. If you toss something like that what you're doing is putting it into an eliptical orbit with a different eccentricity(*). What you're hoping for is that the perigee of the eliptical orbit of the trash is low enough that the atmospheric drag drops its speed (and it's altitude) on each pass, eventually causing it to burn up.

(*) Yes you could put it into a *much* more eccentric orbit such that its orbit would intersect the earth itself in the first pass, but, as pointed out by another poster, that would require a considerable amount of delta-v.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

lavardo (683333) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822368)

I say we just push it to Saturn or Jupiter every 3 months or something.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823012)

March 2039, SETI receives its first alien message: "Stop sending us your damn trash! -Sincerely, The People of Alpha Centauri 4"

-Eric

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16822384)

The US tracks space junk. Perhaps it's a cunning plan to make it more difficult (dangerous) for other countries to send people and satellites into space?

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

lazybratsche (947030) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823150)

From TFA:

"According to the new policy, the crew would release an object on a spacewalk by pushing it "behind" the station to speed up the separation between the ISS and the object and to decrease the amount of time it spends in orbit."

So, they're not just gonna randomly toss objects around. Instead they'll toss them into a slightly lower orbit, where atmospheric drag (which DOES exist even at the orbit of the ISS, though it's very slight) will guarantee the objects will eventually spiral in and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Re:Randomly dump their trash would be stupid (1)

InfiniteWisdom (530090) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824388)

Why do people think it's so easy to deorbit something? "Minimal thrust" will only turn it into a slightly eliptical orbit. Unless you slow it down enough that the perigee intersects the atmosphere, it's going to stay in orbit for along time.

Method of keeping altitude (4, Insightful)

Frans Faase (648933) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821898)

What about installing a device to eject garbage in the direction of the earth, so that they will be burned in the atmosphere as this would also help the ISS to maintain altitude. I realize that the effect would be minimal, but yet all small things might help. Anyway ejecting materials towards is always better than just let them float away.

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

Agent00Wang (146185) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821958)

I like this idea. Hell, even throwing the trash in the direction of the Earth on a space walk would be better than just letting it float away, and would also provide the altitude boost you suggested.

How about a space catapult/ballista (1)

spineboy (22918) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822430)

That would give a decent velocity to aim the stuff at earth so that it would burn up, and hopefully not end up in a high elliptical orbit.
Plus it's re-usable and it's kind of cool.

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

PFI_Optix (936301) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823550)

Or perhaps sealing it in small spherical packages and hitting it with a stick. Like a golf club maybe.

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823772)

even throwing the trash in the direction of the Earth
 
You don't throw something toward the Earth to get it to go down from orbit unless you have an extremely strong firing mechanism. The correct method is to throw it directly behind the ISS. Then it will be moving too slow for that orbital height. That's how to make things fall from orbit.

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821998)

There may be a few technical issues to solve (and it may not be optimal), but it really seem to be a good way to recycle junk into propelant, which is always a scarce resource in space flight.

The problem is that if you simply pack your trash and eject it at high speed to get your thrust, you can only do that in some directions where there is nothing you might destroy, but fortunately, from the relatively low altitude of the ISS, the downward direction is cleared most of the time.

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

Vihai (668734) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822292)

What about installing a device to eject garbage in the direction of the earth, so that they will be burned in the atmosphere as this would also help the ISS to maintain altitude. I realize that the effect would be minimal, but yet all small things might help. Anyway ejecting materials towards is always better than just let them float away.

If you throw thrash in the direction of the earth, it will come back and hit at the very same speed it was ejected and you will not gain altitude, you will just make your orbit more elliptical :)

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822434)

WTF are you smoking? Please explain, yes, if it was thrown downwards with minimal velocity there is a chance the craft might hit it on the next orbit. Though of course that is assuming an exact circular orbit, most orbits spiral around the earth and don't cross the same path twice.

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822476)

If you throw something "down" when you are in orbit, that something will have the same speed as the space station. As a result, it will take a similar trajectory. Even better - if you throw something down, its speed will increase - so, it will have a trajectory higher than the space station. If you throw it directly down, the trajectories will intersect (maybe not at the same time, so no crash) as the junk will take its higher trajectory.

Re:velocity and altitude (1)

Migraineman (632203) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823566)

In orbit, velocity and altitude are related. If you "speed up," your altitude increases; if you "slow down," your altitude decreases. That part is "math" and is not negotiable or subject to interpretation.

If you eject some mass (tools, trash, frozen excrement, etc) in the direction opposite to your current velocity vector, you'll speed up and increase altitude, and the reaction mass will slow down, taking a lower altitude. That eliminates most of the recontact issues, and is why NASA said what they did. It may not be immediately obvious, but throwing anything "at the earth" or in any direction other than the V- direction runs the risk of recontact. If you toss something overboard in a plane perpendicular to your velocity vector, you'll maximize the recontact probability - the reaction mass will come back at you every half-orbit.

If you eliminate the atmospheric drag and orbital perturbations, all mass ejections have a potential for recontact. Fortunately, we don't have "ideal" conditions, so we can use the atmospheric drag to our benefit (one of very few situations where it's actually a good thing) and make a system like this work. I'd much rather see the Trash Chucker 2000 used to eliminate the "waste" materials than to have to schedule an extra Progress or Shuttle mission just to go collect the garbage.

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

Calinous (985536) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822436)

Very true. You need to throw it "back" - this way, it will have a lower speed, and will take a lower orbit.

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824848)

It'll be more eccentric of an orbit, and will hit the station. No matter how you slice it, imparting a force to an object in orbit results in a new orbit which has two coincidental nodes with the old orbit. Even if you throw it backwards.

Re:Method of keeping altitude (4, Insightful)

elvum (9344) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822720)

The ISS needs boosting into a higher orbit periodically to avoid burning up anyway, so any rubbish they eject will burn up eventually. Ejecting rubbish in the direction of earth wouldn't help though - read up on the counter-intuitive nature of orbital mechanics :-)

Re:Method of keeping altitude (1)

Guysmiley777 (880063) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824998)

Orbital mechanics 101: If you "throw" something from a given orbit towards the object it is orbiting, you are just changing the orbital altitude. Distance will decrease but orbital period also decreases, thus it stays in orbit. To get an object to "de-orbit" you would need to throw it backwards (that is in the opposite direction of travel).

I'd sell the trash... (4, Insightful)

Takuryu (759826) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821900)

... after all, one man's trash is another man's treasure (if you believe that saying). I know of a number of people who would pay what I consider to be a fair sum of money just to own something that had been _in space_.

Joking aside, how hard would it be to double-bag a few trash bags and keep the trash outside until a convenient "recovery" mission could come around?

Re:I'd sell the trash... (1)

arootbeer (808234) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823586)

...to double-bag a few trash bags and keep the trash outside...
Stupid space raccoons! I hate them so much!

Re:I'd sell the trash... (1)

ergo98 (9391) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824524)

I know of a number of people who would pay what I consider to be a fair sum of money just to own something that had been _in space_.

Which is kind of weird given that every atom in your body, in the desk and air and plants around you, came from space, traveling enormous distances at colossal speeds, over the history of the universe, to form the tiniest portion of a chunk of feces or a keyboard key used to write a spam message, or whatever.

They stopped trashing space before? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16821930)

Wait, when did they stop throwing trash into space to begin with?

one sided?? (1)

phelix_da_kat (714601) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821934)

Just my 2 cents.. Ok, first the Russians send tourists in to space.. and now do ads/stunts that may have an impact on the ISS? I know it is done on "their time" but doesn't this still impact you other members of the international crew? Its one small step towards all out anarchy!

Sensible idea (1)

Vadim Makarov (529622) | more than 7 years ago | (#16821972)

If you know what happens to the jettisoned object, it's a fine policy. I understand that, after being pushed in the back direction from the station (i.e. behind it in the orbit), junk gets slowed down by whatever thin extent of athmosphere is at this attitude, and burns up in the atmosphere un a matter of days or weeks. The article also says that larger and denser objects may take longer before burn up, but they can be tracked by the ground stations (do they use radars?). If this outcome can be made predictable and the range of possible orbits before burn up is known, there is no problem then.

Re:Sensible idea (2, Interesting)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822082)

while reading your post, the fortune cooky just above was "Sodd's Second Law: Sooner or later, the worst possible set of circumstances is bound to occur.", right on topic, I would say.

Why doesn't ISS have an extensible trash module? (5, Interesting)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822088)

Quite apart from the obvious dangers involved in dumping trash into orbit ...

ISS trash isn't actually trash --- it's extremely valuable material (and mass) that has been boosted into LEO at very high cost.

They should attach an extensible trash module to the ISS, and place all their "trash" (which simply means stuff that they cannot currently use) into the containers through appropriate hatches.

(And I bet space contractors would love to bid for such a project too.)

Not only would you reduce the risk to future flights this way, but you would also provide useful materials for the future. *AND* you'd be seen to be environmentally sensitive, which is no bad thing.

Re:Why doesn't ISS have an extensible trash module (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822816)

Good point, considering how much useful stuff is regularly acquired and recycled from plain old Earth dumpsters.

Re:Why doesn't ISS have an extensible trash module (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822868)

> ISS trash isn't actually trash --- it's extremely valuable material (and mass) that has been boosted into LEO at very high cost.

Unfortunately, most of it has been processed through astronaut intestines.

Re:Why doesn't ISS have an extensible trash module (1)

Hellkitten (574820) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825640)

Unfortunately, most of it has been processed through astronaut intestines.

And that has it's uses too. If they ever decide to experiment with greenhouses in space (or on the moon or whatever) sterilizing that shit (pun intended) could conceivably be cheaper than bringing up dirt and fertilizer from earth. They would have to get over the psychological factor of knowing where your space tomatoes came from though, but since the water already is recycled from human "byproducs" that are already dealing with that.

Re:Why doesn't ISS have an extensible trash module (2, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823076)

It would also allow the Smithsonian to one day open a great new exhibit: "10 Years of Frozen Astronaut Shit and Piss From the ISS."

"See honey, I *told* you astronauts ate corn!"

-Eric

Ohh MY (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825260)

I am just sitting here at work, minding my own business when all of the sudden Iced Egg-Nog Latte reaches escape velocity from my nose!

Re:Why doesn't ISS have an extensible trash module (1)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825694)

"10 Years of Frozen Astronaut Shit and Piss From the ISS."

Only the shit. The piss is recycled to become water. This is one of the less romantic aspects of humanity's great quest into space.

Re:Why doesn't ISS have an extensible trash module (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823216)

Actually most Progress modules are used for this - they are loaded with trash before being detatched and deorbited, burning up on reentry but theres no particular reason they couldnt be placed into a parking orbit for potential future use.

Re:Why doesn't ISS have an extensible trash module (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 7 years ago | (#16826778)

Actually, even human waste could have value if stored properly. From adding more inertia to the station (a double edged sword) to resist orbital drag, to a mass barrier around critical components (including the astronauts) as protection from orbital debris and radiation.

Or to put it another way, in Soviet ISS, your crap saves you.

not more pollution! (-1, Troll)

SkunkPussy (85271) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822146)

So just when the world may be starting to awaken to the decreasing viability of our environment/ecosystem/biosphere, we are now giving the greenlight to pollution of the surrounding space. And how much space rubbish must burn up in the outer atmosphere before that starts getting unbalanced?

Re:not more pollution! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16823372)

Calm down, little buddy. The environmental impact of the material jettisoned from the ISS is minimal compared with the pollution produced by the average small American town. The "environment" is great and all, and it shouldn't be altered irresponsibly, but let's keep those knees from jerking, eh?

Love,

AC

Re:not more pollution! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16826534)

Right. It's really about like the waste generated by a small business like an auto shop...or maybe 3-4 American families.

And considering that they're talking about jettisoning maybe a few hundred pounds per year, when several thousand tons of micrometeoroids enter the atmosphere and burn up each day, we're not even looking at a pitance here.

Reminds me of an anime... (1, Insightful)

Ekhymosis (949557) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822294)

There was this anime (PlanetES) where space trash caused a horrible shuttle accident resulting in everyone dying. While it is an anime, I wonder if it could become true sometime in the future with all the crap left over floating in space, what are the possibilities of, say, a screw flying into a sensitive part of the rocket or cracking a window, etc?

Re:Reminds me of an anime... (1)

Bill Wong (583178) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822404)

Uh, the accident didn't actually kill everyone on the ship. Yuri Mihairokoh, one of the main characters, was on that space ship and survives the accident. His wife dies however and this is part of the reason why he starts collecting space debris -- in order to locate his wife's compass-pendant, which he does, later in the anime. I believe it's also roughly the same in the manga too. Did you actually pay any attention when you were watching Planetes? You should watch it over again...

Re:Reminds me of an anime... (1)

Ekhymosis (949557) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822474)

My point wasn't whether there were survivors or not, nor the story, but the actual problem with the space debris/trash and future space travel. It might be a real problem sometime in the future, or it might not since we don't have information on space trash and space travel just yet.

Re:Reminds me of an anime... (1)

Silver Sloth (770927) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822422)

The odd bits of garbage thrown overboard are a minimal risk compared to the number of satalites we have up there. I know space is *BIG* but the number of satalites is large and increasing.

In other news (1)

Der PC (1026194) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822312)

ISS observation deck window smashed when a frozen Hulk Grogan jettisoned from the ISS a few months earlier caught up with the ISS and smashed through the observation window. Leaves three astronauts severely smelly and in lack of air.

Futurama already did it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16822448)

Futurama's prediction is coming coming true, it didn't work out so well for them..

http://www.tv.com/futurama/a-big-piece-of-garbage/ episode/1541/summary.html [tv.com]

EDIT: My image verification for this post is 'brothel'....

Obvious joke (1)

Tim_UWA (1015591) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822630)

What if the second garbage ball returns to Earth like the first one did?
Who cares? That won't be for hundreds of years.
Exactly! It's none of our concern.

Re:Obvious joke (1)

GDI Lord (988866) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823154)


Good news, everyone!

As long as they make sure it is safe... (1)

JensR (12975) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822852)

I mean, if they make sure that they pack everything safely together so that it doesn't generate small particles, and if they give it a push towards earth I don't see a problem.
By the way, I was wondering if it is possible to use a big bag of foam or gel, to sweep up small pieces of debris that could damage satellites or space stations.

Won't it just fall down and burn? (1)

Bromskloss (750445) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822872)

Just as I thought the station itself would if they didn't boost the altitude from time to time.

Clarke, "Islands in the Sky" 1952 (3, Interesting)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 7 years ago | (#16822914)

Pigs. Litterbugs. Someone ought to fine them $500. What can you say?

But... after all... one of the pivotal episodes in Arthur C. Clarke's 1952 novel "Islands in the Sky" concerns an orbital spacecraft which is alarmed by the presence of a large, unidentified spacecraft, approach closely enough to identify it, and sees that it's covered in radiation symbols. In the novel, it turns out that the AEC had, at one time, had the bright idea of disposing of radioactive waste by shooting it into space, and this is a stray canister of high-level radioactive waste. So I guess it could be worse.

And "throwing away" (such an aptly descriptive phrase: just toss the waste a discrete distance from the dwelling) seems to be a basic part of human nature. In Owen Wister's novel, "The Virginian," set in Wyoming between 1874 and 1890, the narrator and his companions partake of "Sardines... and potted chicken, and devilled ham," and muses:

"But portable ready-made food plays of necessity a great part in the opening of a new country. These picnic pots and cans were the first of her trophies that Civilization dropped upon Wyoming's virgin soil. The cow-boy is now gone to worlds invisible; the wind has blown away the white ashes of his camp-fires; but the empty sardine box lies rusting over the face of the Western earth."

Interesting... (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823382)

Interesting world where 'trash' can be defined as "stuff that we paid $10,000/lb to get up here, but we don't need anymore".

Life imitates Anime (1)

kunakida (886654) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823402)

The premise of Planetes (a.k.a. Trashmen in Space) is that so much garbage will be put into orbit around Earth that it becomes dangerous to space traffic and we will need a dedicated "Space Debris" division to control it.

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

And so, it begins.

Good news everyone! (1)

OfficialReverendStev (988479) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823560)

Actually, before flinging the trash into space they created a giant trash barge. It sailed around the world for years but no country would take it. Now they're hurling the garbage into space. It might come back, but there's no need to worry about that because it wouldn't happen for another thousand years or so...

Where's the HOA when you need 'em?!? (1)

xmas2003 (739875) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823650)

Someone needs to contact the Internetional Space Station HomwOwners Association as I'm sure this is against the covenents ...

Why don't they... (1)

gawdonblue (996454) | more than 7 years ago | (#16823760)

... just get Adam Quark [wikipedia.org] to pick it up?

Here bee, bee, bee, bee. Here bee, bee, bee, bee.

For Geeks. (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 7 years ago | (#16824598)

"ISS in a promotional stunt for a golf company."

Contest - Program "Canada Arm", first one to hit a ball into a stationary orbit wins!

use that energy (1)

DriveDog (822962) | more than 7 years ago | (#16825118)

Temporary satellites... connect the garbage to a conductive tether. Traveling through Earth's magnetic field, the device generates electricity. How to use it? Temporary communications, cool bright light, whatever. Just use the power. The price of the power is reduction in momentum, and eventually the whole thing falls low enough for atmospheric drag to take it down. A lot of money was spent putting energy into the stuff by orbiting it, now lets at least extract some of the energy from it.

NASA needs some one with an E-bay Account (1)

Anon-Admin (443764) | more than 7 years ago | (#16826322)

Man, bring this stuff back down on the space shuttle and run it on ebay. I bet some one would pay for a collection of tools used on the ISS!

They may be able to recoup some of the cost... lol

great makes it easier for the aliens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16826578)

all aliens have to do now is scoop the discarded feces from orbit and extract the blood (all feces contains blood) in order to extract dna/genes. They can then clone asstronauts err speak prime-humans (specialists) and send them down in place of the real ones when the real ones return for the tenth time.

This space was our space (1)

notnAP (846325) | more than 7 years ago | (#16826614)

Why am I now filled with the un-deletable image of Spock, crying in front of flotsam?

Rings around the earth (1)

lildogie (54998) | more than 7 years ago | (#16826758)

These ISS guys, next thing you know, they'll have broken-down space shuttles cluttering up their yard.

"There goes the neigborhood."
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