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9 Ideas For Coping With Space Junk

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the we're-gonna-need-a-bigger-net dept.

Earth 149

An anonymous reader writes "The space age has filled Earth's orbit with all manner of space junk, from spent rocket stages to frozen bags of astronaut urine, and the problem keeps getting worse. NASA's orbital debris experts estimate that there are currently about 19,000 pieces of space junk that are larger than 10 centimeters, and about 500,000 slightly smaller objects. Researchers and space companies are plotting ways to clean up the mess, and a new photo gallery from Discover Magazine highlights some of the proposals. They range from the cool & doable, like equipping every satellite with a high-tech kite tail for deployment once the satellite is defunct, to the cool & unlikely, like lasers in space."

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Hit or Miss (4, Insightful)

teeks99 (849132) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428178)

That Discover article was pretty hit-or-miss. They nailed the real solution in two of their pieces (tethers and sails), in that the best (easiest, cheapest, only-one-that-will-probably-ever-happen) are technologies that are built into space objects (satellites and boosters) before launch. There's lots of options here from tethers, sails, balloons [slashdot.org] , or just using existing thrusters. If we can stop leaving big pieces up there (which can run into other big pieces and make LOTS of pieces), the problem will start getting less severe.

On the other hand, on of Discover's pages was about blowing up the debris...this makes sense, until you really think about it. The problem is that when you blow up something, it makes a huge number of new pieces, with all sorts of different velocities and orbits. On average, these pieces will fall to earth more quickly than the unexploded satellite, however, that's just the average. There are many pieces that will stay up there even longer. And when you're talking about things moving that these incredible velocities, it doesn't matter a whole lot if you get hit by a 6,000lb. satellite or a 5lb. piece of a satellite, either one will destroy anything we've put in orbit.

Re:Hit or Miss (4, Interesting)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428544)

That Discovery article was a total waste of time. It really had little to do with "9 ways of dealing with space junk," and was more along the lines of "9 things that are kind of related that we want to talk about." As you mentioned, a couple of its nine methods of dealing with space junk could really just be grouped into the general theme of, stop putting more up there (deorbit your crap at end of mission). There were only three methods that actually discussed getting rid of existing junk: lasers in space, balls of aerogel to capture stuff, blowing up large chunks of junk. For what it's worth, the exploding method that you mentioned discussed only conducitng such methods at low altitudes which actually does work really well. However, it still leaves a lot of unaddressed crud in the higher LEO bands (like the one the ISS is in). The aerogel glob discussion was also an interesting one, but as the article addressed, aerogel can only really handle tiny stuff like paint chips. The lasers in space is probably the most effective solution, but costs so much in terms of energy generation that it is still a ways off in any large scale deployment.

So what else did the article discuss? Well it mentioned the Kessler effect, which has nothing to do with dealing with space junk, but is just a model used to describe space junk. It mentioned that NASA is now putting more efforts into tracking space junk. This is important, of course, but doesn't qualify as a method for removing it or handling it (excepting the very indirect means of simply avoiding it). Then it talks about shielding spacecraft from space junk. This, of course, is necessary and current practice, but no amount of shielding (presently) will protect you from detached thermal blankets or burnt out Delta stages.

All in all, this article just seemed like a disorganized, loosely-themed, terse ramble. I usually expect better from Discover but was severely disappointed in this particular release.

Re:Hit or Miss (2, Informative)

ComputerInsultant (722520) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428768)

What a waste. Even the first page has an obvious error:

the tool kit dropped by astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper during a spacewalk in 2008

That tool kit re-entered the atmosphere in August of 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidemarie_Stefanyshyn-Piper#Lost_tool_bag_during_spacewalk [wikipedia.org] Come on guys. Do some fact checking.

Re:Hit or Miss (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33429204)

Using Wikipedia for fact checking. Pity there's no "ironic" mod.

Re:Hit or Miss (1)

instagib (879544) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429472)

Using Wikipedia for fact checking. Pity there's no "ironic" mod.

No reason for that mod if the Wikipedia article has credible references.

(Yeah, I know I shall not feed 'em, but it's a often seen criticism.)

Re:Hit or Miss (0)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428618)

> like equipping every satellite with a high-tech kite tail for deployment once the satellite is defunct ... which increases the mass and size of the satellite, which increases the spalling damage if it does get hit by debris. I'm not convinced this is a good idea.

Maury

Re:Hit or Miss (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33429404)

Good grief, people still sign posts in 2010? Your login name is right there! Do you also say "over" and "10-4" when talking on a cell phone? Jeez.

Re:Hit or Miss (2, Interesting)

izomiac (815208) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430160)

On the other hand, on of Discover's pages was about blowing up the debris...this makes sense, until you really think about it. The problem is that when you blow up something, it makes a huge number of new pieces, with all sorts of different velocities and orbits.

Most problems with lasers can be solved by higher power lasers. Just increase the power output and decrease the delivery time until you can turn any debris you target completely into gas or plasma. For larger objects, target a non-rotating point so it'll turn to gas and push the object out of orbit.

Hmm (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428182)

Why don't they just drop it back to Earth? Is it too hard to reach *de-escape velocity?**

*yes, I just made that up.
**yes, I just said that to mess with your physics majors.

Re:Hmm (3, Informative)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428410)

Why shouldn't it be hard? Large changes in velocity require large amounts of fuel. Doesn't matter if you are "speeding up" or "slowing down". That's why so many of these ideas involve working out a way for satellites to increase their drag after a time.

Re:Hmm (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428634)

It's not terribly hard, but it is expensive. Depending on what kind of deorbit profile you develop, you either have to carry extra fuel for the entire mission (accounting for things like boil-off and ablation) to burn your way back to a properly low orbit, or you carry a whole new deployment mechanism to drag you back down (solar sail, kite, whatever), which adds an entire subsystem that you have to track, design, and engineer throughout the development process (mind you, no current launch vehicles have this capability, so they have to rely on unspent fuel), or you use some exotic means of deorbit like the Earth's magnetic field to pull you back down into the atmosphere. Of course, that last one also requires an entire subsystem development team as well. So in the end, deorbiting becomes a very expensive effort that requires engineers and technology to achieve. Is it impossible? Nah. Is it cheap? Nah. Most companies/countries/entities won't bother about deorbiting because they are less concerned about the environment and more concerned about how modern their space program looks. Thus, they don't bother with deorbiting their spacecraft because they would rather spend their engineers and money doing impressive things like landing on asteroids, or blowing up other satellites in orbit.... (yes, I'm looking at you China, you short-sighted wankers).

Re:Hmm (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429922)

Depending on what kind of deorbit profile you develop, ....

Always with the de-orbit. Reduce, reuse, recycle, oh, and recover. All satellites are insured with really big recovery fees.

Re:Hmm (2, Funny)

grub (11606) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428706)

They should just move the Earth from the encircling space junk.

What problem? (2, Funny)

reverendbeer (1496637) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428196)

Just send up a guy with a jet pack and a baseball bat...let reentry take care of the rest.

Better solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428686)

Just send up all the special interest fatten politicians. They should be put to work for a change.

Re:What problem? (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429120)

I'm thinking create a couple of small singularities in low earth orbit and let them vacuum up the space debris. Let gravity do the work. What could possibly go wrong?

Re:What problem? (1)

instagib (879544) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429544)

Excellent idea. "Black holes in orbit. It's the only way to be sure."

Re:What problem? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429818)

Don't forget the 'roids.

The perfect solution has already been worked out (3, Interesting)

TrentTheThief (118302) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428248)

This is the solution:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvage_1 [wikipedia.org]

Re:The perfect solution has already been worked ou (0)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428356)

Heh. I sort of remember this show. There are no torrents for it on TPB so I wonder if there is a way I can go back and watch these again. I remember liking the show when I was a kid... I also enjoyed Space 1999. I was able to download those though.

Re:The perfect solution has already been worked ou (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428612)

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

Re:The perfect solution has already been worked ou (2, Funny)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429952)

This is the solution:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvage_1 [wikipedia.org]

Two words...Fly paper.

Also worth watching (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33430298)

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

Anime, but it's "hard" sci-fi. Set in 2075, the main band of characters deal with large-order space-junk. It mixes in some topics in geopolitics and missions to the outer planets too.

The Great Lower-Orbit Garbage Patch (1, Interesting)

stagg (1606187) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428272)

Sounds like the same kind of problem we're wrestling with down here.

Obligatory space elevator post... (0, Redundant)

stagg (1606187) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428292)

If only we could finish the space elevator, we could use it to bring the garbage back down to Earth! Or bring janitors to the stars! It's only ten years away!

one idea for surviving corepirate nazi life0cide (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428294)

never a better time to consult with/trust in our creators. the lights are coming up rapidly all over now. see you there?

the corepirate nazi illuminati is always hunting that patch of red on almost everyones' neck. if they cannot find yours (greed, fear ego etc...) then you can go starve. that's their (slippery/slimy) 'platform' now. see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisocial_personality_disorder

greed, fear & ego (in any order) are unprecedented evile's primary weapons. those, along with deception & coercion, helps most of us remain (unwittingly?) dependent on its' life0cidal hired goons' agenda. most of our dwindling resources are being squandered on the 'wars', & continuation of the billionerrors stock markup FraUD/pyramid schemes. nobody ever mentions the real long term costs of those debacles in both life & any notion of prosperity for us, or our children. not to mention the abuse of the consciences of those of us who still have one, & the terminal damage to our atmosphere (see also: manufactured 'weather', hot etc...). see you on the other side of it? the lights are coming up all over now. the fairytail is winding down now. let your conscience be your guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. we now have some choices. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on your brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.

"The current rate of extinction is around 10 to 100 times the usual background level, and has been elevated above the background level since the Pleistocene. The current extinction rate is more rapid than in any other extinction event in earth history, and 50% of species could be extinct by the end of this century. While the role of humans is unclear in the longer-term extinction pattern, it is clear that factors such as deforestation, habitat destruction, hunting, the introduction of non-native species, pollution and climate change have reduced biodiversity profoundly.' (wiki)

"I think the bottom line is, what kind of a world do you want to leave for your children," Andrew Smith, a professor in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences, said in a telephone interview. "How impoverished we would be if we lost 25 percent of the world's mammals," said Smith, one of more than 100 co-authors of the report. "Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems where they live," added Julia Marton-Lefevre, IUCN director general. "We must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend to ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest relatives."--

"The wealth of the universe is for me. Every thing is explicable and practical for me .... I am defeated all the time; yet to victory I am born." --emerson

no need to confuse 'religion' with being a spiritual being. our soul purpose here is to care for one another. failing that, we're simply passing through (excess baggage) being distracted/consumed by the guaranteed to fail illusionary trappings of man'kind'. & recently (about 10,000 years ago) it was determined that hoarding & excess by a few, resulted in negative consequences for all.

consult with/trust in your creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." )one does not need to agree whois in charge to grasp the notion that there may be some assistance available to us(

boeing, boeing, gone.

Oh goodie. Here come the ideas (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428310)

I'm looking forward to hearing what a bunch of self-righteous armchair aerospace designers who live in basements think about this issue. /. is turning more and more in to /b every goddamn day.

Economic solution: (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428380)

Turn the ISS into a gift shop and sell all the bits of junk as souvenirs on eBay, Craigslist, and the Shopping Network. The shipping cost will be a bitch but people will buy it anyway just to be the first on their block with *that* on their mantle (or in their front yard).

Re:Economic solution: (2, Funny)

oldmac31310 (1845668) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429002)

I expect the frozen bags of urine would be a top selling item. Great idea!

Re:Economic solution: (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429152)

Is there anything the free market can't solve?

Re:Economic solution: (2, Interesting)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429298)

Apart from the danger of monopoly and people being left outside? Nope

Re:Economic solution: (2, Funny)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430102)

I'd say the shipping costs would be quite low, actually. Fast delivery times too. You could place your order, grab a baseball glove, head out to the back yard, and receive your package 5 minutes later.

Lasers... (5, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428402)

This guy [ted.com] built a laser which tracks mosquitoes in a room and zaps them. Surely the technology can be adapted...

Re:Lasers... (4, Interesting)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428728)

You know, I always wanted to talk to that guy for the exact reason you posted. I thought it would be a great university project for some aerospace engineering students to team up with this guy and build a small satellite (~500 kg) that used some combination of high-load capacitors, trickle charge electronics, solar cells, and his laser-tracking technology to basically float around Earth for awhile in a particularly polluted altitude band and just try zapping what ~10 cm pieces of space junk they could find. It would be a great effort for the students, and would act as a wonderful proof-of-concept demonstrator to the big players in the space industry.

Re:Lasers... (2, Interesting)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428976)

> ...a wonderful proof-of-concept demonstrator...

What concept do you think it would prove? "Hitting stuff with a laser" is not very hard and has been demonstrated many times, even in space.

Re:Lasers... (2, Interesting)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429308)

Something along the lines of: "hitting stuff with a laser, in space, on a shoestring (university) budget, on a small, COTs-derived, simple vehicle."

That's a very different proof than "hitting something with a laser in space."

Re:Lasers... (3, Informative)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429368)

Oh, also, most of the things we've hit with lasers in space, today, are things whose relative position, velocity, flight path, and orientation are known. Recognizing an anonymous piece of cold debris, targeting it, and maintaining laser contact on it for any decent amount of time is a significantly different problem than targeting the next satellite in a known constellation and establishing a two-way communication protocol between hardware.

Re:Lasers... (2, Informative)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430504)

Actually it's the same problem.

Satellite controllers use the radar-tracking derived ephemeris data from NORAD. It's a simple matter of changing a search parameter in the data request to get the debris trajectories.

Re:Lasers... (2, Informative)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430324)

Not to point out the obvious, but killing flies and destroying space junk are two very different things.

The insect laser only needs to wound the insect enough that it is no longer a trouble- badly damage the wings, or cause it bodily injury. The insect then tumbles harmlessly to the ground.

The debris laser needs to do one of two things- either impart enough thermal energy to the junk so that it's trajectory is changed, causing it to de-orbit, or to disintegrate it into such tiny pieces that it no longer poses a threat upon impact. Both of which are likely to need more energy than de-winging a mosquito.

Lasers are easy- we've had them for many years. Tracking the debris is easy- we're doing it now. Having something that can point accurately at something we're tracking- that's easy enough too. Having something that can do all that with enough power to actually be useful, able to do it over and over again without running out of consumables, and do that on a sane budget-that's tricky.

Re:Lasers... (2, Interesting)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430438)

Having something that can do all that with enough power to actually be useful, able to do it over and over again without running out of consumables, and do that on a sane budget-that's tricky.

Agreed. This is precisely what makes it an interesting and worthwhile engineering project to work on.

Re:Lasers... (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430764)

Plus, if the sattelite for some reason mistakes a functioning sattelite for spae debris (for example because of a problem with the distance tracking that leaves it unable to distinguish between "small and close" and "large and far away") the results could be very expensive.

Re:Lasers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33430768)

float around Earth for awhile in a particularly polluted altitude band and just try zapping what ~10 cm pieces of space junk they could find

I know what sound it will make: peew, peew, peew!

Out of dimension? (2, Interesting)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428404)

The average junkyard in earth surface using a relatively few square meters have far more junk than that, and we are talking here of something of orders bigger than the entire earth surface, probably in an area of the size of a medium country you get one piece of more than 10 cm. The article puts it as something packed with junk. Ok, they aren't static, they orbit, and usually at big speeds (several times faster than a bullet), and is a problem with only increases with time, is not something to discard too easily, but still the warning seem a bit exaggerated.

Re:Out of dimension? (2, Insightful)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428428)

Oh hush. I'm trying to get some grant money!

Re:Out of dimension? (4, Informative)

djdanlib (732853) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429082)

You need to get through all the orbits of uncontrolled junk, which takes a lot of calculation and you can only move so fast.

You have to be able to get out of the way of new junk that's moving so fast you can't accelerate quickly enough to wait and see if it might miss you.

Calculation of junk trajectory is only so precise, so you have to leave a 'safety buffer' of sorts.

There's more junk up there than we have cataloged. There will always be new junk, and collisions alter orbits of existing junk such that our known trajectories become inaccurate and we have to relocate and recalculate all the time.

So finding a safe zone which requires the least fuel usage to stay alive is becoming more challenging.

Tiny fragments that wouldn't harm anyone if you threw it at them are deadly, equipment-wrecking projectiles at high velocity. Think about a small piece of metal, like a penny. Not a problem if you drop it on your foot. Not going to destroy a vehicle if you drop if off a towering skyscraper, even. But, in space where there's no[t enough] atmosphere to slow it down or burn it up, it can theoretically approach any speed... and a 1,000 MPH penny is a fearsome entity to a fragile laboratory measurement device. We might not even be able to track that very accurately, but if you guess wrong... you transfer that momentum into multiple new shards of former expensive equipment!

So getting things into space is really getting more complicated and keeping things alive up there takes a lot more calculation and fuel as the probability of stray objects increases. Does that cut down on the exaggeration factor?

Re:Out of dimension? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430522)

One hit can ruin a billion-dollar project, and create a multi-billion dollar investigation and recovery effort.

The shit needs to be cleaned up.

Re:Out of dimension? (4, Informative)

rlseaman (1420667) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430694)

the warning seem a bit exaggerated

Consider that each object (in low Earth orbit) is in a separate orbit. Each pair of orbits crosses twice on opposite sides of the Earth. The eccentricity of each orbit causes the object to traverse a range of altitudes, defining the subset of all the LEO objects that are possible collision risks at any given time. The risk for two particular objects colliding is low, but each object has many other opportunities as it crosses thousands of other orbital tracks each time it circles the Earth. Then integrate over all the objects. The probability is a nested summation - integrated over time.

For example, assume there are about one hundred spacecraft (active and defunct) occupying a particular semimajor axis "zone". Each satellite orbits once every 90 minutes, ie, 16 orbits/day. Each satellite crosses the orbit of another about 200 times in that 90 minutes. Usually the other spacecraft is somewhere else entirely, but there are a lot of opportunities.

Establish a "comfort radius" - say, one kilometer. If Le Petit Prince is sitting on a satellite, he will get very nervous if another spacecraft zooms through this keyhole at 10 km/s. A typical low Earth orbit is about 42,000 of these comfort units long. So the odds (ignoring altitude for the moment) of finding a spacecraft within the same part of the orbit - during each passage - is 1/42,000. Multiply by the 200 opportunities makes this 1/210 (0.5%) per orbit or about 7.5%/day/spacecraft. There are 100 spacecraft in this zone, so that amounts to about 4 close encounters per day (divide in half since it takes two to tango) in which some spacecraft passes directly above or below another by a few kilometers.

Accounting for altitude requires a bit more physics (inverse square law and all that), but basically amounts to a similar argument of dividing the altitude range traversed by each satellite into comfort zones. The odds of passing through the keyhole drop, but not dramatically - and the orbit crossings keep piling up about a hundred thousand per day per altitude range. With each close encounter, the odds of an impact are basically very simple. What is the volume of a typical spacecraft divided by the 1 km^3 volume? (The second spacecraft either will or won't be occupying the same volume at the moment of closest approach.) Satellites can be surprisingly large - Hubble is about the size of a schoolbus - but figure a Volkswagen van or at least a Beetle.

Bear in mind that this is just one particular altitude range, the same thing is happening at different altitudes. Some spacecraft are in highly elliptical orbits and cross through several such zones. In short, what seems to be a three dimensional problem is really one dimensional. After the spacecraft collision a couple of years ago some of us were scribbling on a blackboard. A physical model would be needed to get the precise answers, but a ball park figure is that we can expect the apparently astronomically rare event of two LEO spacecraft colliding to happen about once per decade (in the absence of active station keeping). Then account for all the debris, not just complete spacecraft.

The real problem... (4, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428412)

...like lasers in space.

The main obstacles being shark deployment and survivability.

Re:The real problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428958)

...like lasers in space.

The main obstacles being shark deployment and survivability.

Maybe shark space suits with rocket backpacks?

Re:The real problem... (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430004)

...like lasers in space.

The main obstacles being shark deployment and survivability.

Yeah, shark fin soup is mighty tasty.

Asteroids the game has suddenly become real (2, Interesting)

jappleng (1805148) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428486)

Add a few laser "command centers" around orbit and have an online vector game ready to destroy the debris. Personally I liked the previous suggestion of space baseball.

I think this applies... (5, Funny)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428538)

Hi there! Your post advocates a

( ) technical ( ) legislative ( ) market-based ( ) vigilante

approach to fighting space junk. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

( ) Junkers can easily use it to create more space junk
( ) Space stations and other legitimate space uses would be affected
( ) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
( ) It is defenseless against brute force space dumps
( ) It will stop space junk for two weeks and then we'll be stuck with it
( ) Users of space will not put up with it
( ) NASA will not put up with it
( ) The space police will not put up with it
( ) Requires too much cooperation from space junkers
( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
( ) Many space users cannot afford to lose business or alienate potential employers
( ) Space junkers don't care about other junk in their junk
( ) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business

Specifically, your plan fails to account for

( ) Laws expressly prohibiting it
( ) Lack of centrally controlling authority for space
( ) Launches in foreign countries
( ) Difficulty of searching for tiny junk in all of space
( ) Asshats
( ) Jurisdictional problems
( ) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
( ) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
( ) Huge existing investment in space
( ) Armies of worm riddled broadband-connected Windows boxes
( ) Eternal arms race involved in all space junk collection policies
( ) Extreme profitability of space junk
( ) Joe jobs and/or identity theft
( ) Technically illiterate politicians
( ) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with space junkers
( ) Dishonesty on the part of space junkers themselves
( ) Fuel costs that are unaffected by space junk
( ) Outlook

and the following philosophical objections may also apply:

( ) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever
been shown practical
( ) Any scheme based on opt-out is unacceptable
( ) We should be able to talk about space Viagra without being censored
( ) Countermeasures should not involve missles
( ) Countermeasures should not involve more junk
( ) Countermeasures must work if phased in gradually
( ) Sending things to space should be free
( ) Why should we have to trust you and your space garbage company?
( ) Incompatiblity with space licenses
( ) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem
( ) I don't want the government cleaning up space
( ) Killing them that way is not slow and painful enough

Furthermore, this is what I think about you:

( ) Sorry dude, but I don't think it would work.
( ) This is a stupid idea, and you're a stupid person for suggesting it.
( ) Nice try, assh0le! I'm going to find out where you live and burn your
house down!

Tethers and such are not a way to clean up. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428548)

They are just ways to keep the mess from getting worse very fast. They do nothing about the existing junk or the results of many probable accidents.

Orbital Junk (2, Funny)

UninformedCoward (1738488) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428576)

Nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

wait...

Re:Orbital Junk (2, Informative)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429058)

I guess that would be "just detonate the nukes already in orbit" in that particular case.

Max Headroom has the solution (1)

acroyear (5882) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428580)

20 minutes into the future, Mardi Gras will be replaced by "Sky Fall", a week-long festival where this year's space junk is intentionally grounded by remote control to crash into the sea or burn up in the atmosphere.

Re:Max Headroom has the solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428746)

That would be awesome for a few years all until the inevitable douchebaggery starts from usual places (Hollywood types, fratboys, etc.)

"Toy Box" (1)

Computer_kid (996105) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428604)

Get the crew from debris section! [wikipedia.org]

Re:"Toy Box" (1)

dadelbunts (1727498) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429756)

The best guy they had is on the Von Braun

You don't need virtual girlfriends (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428626)

Google pick up artist its something you can learn to do.

Why do anything about it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428630)

I like a little space junk in the trunk.

Death from Above. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428644)

It is very reassuring that “The chance of falling debris causing a casualty is less than one in 10,000.”

With a population of 6 697 254 041 there is technically 669 725 earthlings that should pray for their lives each time one of these things falls.

Statistics... (3, Informative)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428926)

...that is not how they work.

There are no 669,725 people that are in any more danger than anyone else. There isn't a 1/10,000 chance that it will hit each person, there is a 1/10,000 chance that it will hit any person. In other words, for every ten-thousand pieces of space junk that fall, you might get a single casualty.

If you think these are particularly bad odds, then I have some bad news about your car...

Re:Statistics... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33429602)

Aw, I wanted to see the paint chip which could kill "669 725 earthlings" (roughly the population of San Francisco) in one go.

(Hint to all: GP was probably joking)

Incinerator (0)

DrugCheese (266151) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428684)

Why don't we toss junk into the sun?

Re:Incinerator (4, Funny)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428744)

The same reason you don't carry your car to work to save gas money.

Re:Incinerator (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428916)

Sure. You do the tossing.

Re:Incinerator (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33429334)

Why don't we toss junk into the sun?

Because the deltaV required to get junk into the sun is more than three times that required to get the junk into orbit around the Earth in the first place.

In other words, in order to insert a defunct satellite into an orbit that'll drop it into the Sun, a two ton satellite would require about 1500 tons of fuel....

Note that it would be easier to dump a defunct satellite into Alpha Centauri (it would take longer, but the deltaV requirement is much less) than into our Sun.

Lasers are quite feasible for this... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428710)

...though not "in space". See laser broom [wikipedia.org] .

Giant foam ball (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33428752)

What about a space craft specifically designed to deal with the debris? I'm picturing something towing a giant foam ball that will absorb/slow down most of what contacts it. The space craft is pilot-able and comes back to earth, with the absorber attached.

Magnets (1)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428812)

There must be some kind of application for magnetics out there.

Re:Magnets (1)

dadelbunts (1727498) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429808)

how do they work?

Put ointment on it (1)

Ranger (1783) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428844)

Sounds painful.

Simple is Better (2, Interesting)

YetAnotherBob (988800) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428940)

A simple solution might be to send up a sounding rocket to the altitude where a typical debris cloud is and just release a cloud of nitrogen gas. the cloud will fall soon into the atmosphere, the sounding rocket will too. the debris field will have a short time in a very low density gas cloud, and drop in it's orbit. Normal decay will then reduce the overall problem.

Presumably, the AF knows where the debris is. Look for any clusters. Publish where and when it is going to be taken out. Unless someone objects, with a why, then do it. Probably find out who owns a lot of the back satellites that way.

Begin to get rid of the litter. We won't finish until after we start. Right now, there is no cleanup.

Maybe a first test run, then, when we can predict the outcome, a regular program of removal.

Re:Simple is Better (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429506)

> ...typical debris cloud...

There are no debris clouds. Each individual bit of scrap is in its own orbit.

Re:Simple is Better (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430124)

Presumably, the AF knows where the debris is.

Yeah they do.
Look at all the dots [wikipedia.org]

Obligatory Star Wars Quote (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 4 years ago | (#33428996)

Switch all power to *front* deflector screens.

Switch all power to *front* deflector screens.

Re:Obligatory Star Wars Quote (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430150)

Switch all power to *front* deflector screens. Switch all power to *front* deflector screens.

Are sure you don't mean "forward"?

Re:Obligatory Star Wars Quote (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430470)

Looks like we both got it wrong...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6v5VahaEL7s#t=1m18s [youtube.com]

"We're passing through their magnetic field."
"Hold tight."
"Switch your deflectors on double-front."

Re:Obligatory Star Wars Quote (1)

Garth Vader (75778) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430986)

When the first 3 y-wings go into the trench you get the *front* deflector screens line.

Simpler solutions (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429092)

Blowing the debris up, in various ways, just makes the problem worse by making more pieces instead of fewer.

Dropping them to the Earth means a chance of dropping them on someone/thing. They should design in a safe burn-up plan instead of letting it fall wherever.

The best solution is to not generate debris in the first place. Too much of this crap is just some country sending up a "look at me" advertisement, like China's blowing up satellites.

Re:Simpler solutions (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429576)

Blowing the debris up, in various ways, just makes the problem worse by making more pieces instead of fewer.

Depends. Blowing up large objects that are in low orbit breaks them into many tiny pieces that re-enter quickly instead of remaining in orbit for decades.

Dropping them to the Earth means a chance of dropping them on someone/thing. They should design in a safe burn-up plan instead of letting it fall wherever.

Most of the stuff is already such that it would not survive re-entry.

The answer is simple: Funding. (2, Informative)

Remus Shepherd (32833) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429104)

We don't need new strategies for getting objects down from space. We know how to get them down. When a satellite has outlived its usefulness, you reserve enough fuel so that it can deorbit itself.

The problem is that satellites are expensive and rare still, so we don't want to give them up. So we keep the missions up there for years past their expected lifetime, with the result that they don't have deorbiting fuel left over when they finally break down enough that they're no good to us anymore.

An example: I work with Landsat 5. It was launched in 1982 with a 5 year mission plan. It's still up there, 28 years later, and still a vital piece of the US remote sensing strategy. The next similar satellite won't be launched until 2012. Although it had a deorbiting plan that would have sunk it into the atmosphere a few years after it was decommissioned, that plan was waived. The current plan is to put it into an orbit that will leave it as space debris for 1000 years before it gets low enough to burn in.

If we had funded the satellite program enough, there would have been several follow-on missions and L5 would not still be essential. We would have been able to deorbit it without complaint if there were others that could have taken its role.

Fund space and you won't have space problems. Don't fund it and it'll become a graveyard. Simple as that.

Make a Ring (1)

komby (556843) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429144)

Seriously, Those astronauts aren't really doing anything up there anymore. Let them go up and start arranging the junk in the shape of a ring

Re:Make a Ring (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430180)

Seriously, Those astronauts aren't really doing anything up there anymore. Let them go up and start arranging the junk in the shape of a ring

Seriously, PHD garbage men.
How do gat a PHD off your porch?

Pay for the pizza they deliver.

Why all this talk about shooting it down? (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429356)

We've already spent billions getting it up there, why not recycle it? Create a recycling station in orbit. There's probably enough material to create something nice that would benefit the entire world. If this is organised by UN or something similar, give the governments with secret stuff up there 5 years to get rid of it, and if they do, whatever can be captured, belongs to the recycle station. Let's call it IRS - International Recycling Station!

Re:Why all this talk about shooting it down? (2, Interesting)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429612)

We've already spent billions getting it up there, why not recycle it? Create a recycling station in orbit.

Every bit of trash is in a different orbit. It takes expensive fuel to change orbits. Collecting it all in one place would cost more than simply launching the same amount of stuff from the surface.

Re:Why all this talk about shooting it down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33429630)

Because recycling things gets a bit harder when those things have enough energy to pierce a hole through your recycler.

Re:Why all this talk about shooting it down? (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430216)

We've already spent billions getting it up there, why not recycle it? Create a recycling station in orbit.

Sorry, my prior designs originate in the late 70's. Therefore I hold a prior copyright on intellectual property.

Did they ever... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33429474)

...hear about VACUUM cleaners?

More information there: http://www.google.com/search?q=VACUUM

Excellent idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33429560)

Well-tested throughout the 80's.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrosmash

Get a big gun (1)

slapout (93640) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429562)

Target Practice?

DUH USE THE STAR WARS SATELLITE (1)

hashish16 (1817982) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429604)

We all know its up there, just secretly "DELETE" space debris.

The most obvious solution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33429700)

Just use a vacuum cleaner...

Life imitates Art (1)

MichaelJ (140077) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429704)

Just send up Salvage 1 [imdb.com] . Or maybe Quark [imdb.com] .

A gravity laser is what we need. (1)

kawabago (551139) | more than 4 years ago | (#33429762)

We'll probably have one shortly after we figure out what gravity actually is.

Impactor Ballistic Missle? (1)

lurking_giant (1087199) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430366)

Launch a simple rocket on a ballistic trajectory that impacts the item you want to de-orbit. Only aim it to hit the target on the way back down so that the added momentum pushes them into a lower orbit... Another thought would be to use a gravity tractor concept like the one being proposed for moving asteroids. In this instance the goal would be to send a simple thruster device on a path to "not impact" the object you want to move... only use it as a gravity sling which alters the path of both objects in proportion to their mass. If you choose the path correctly, the target heads into the atmosphere and you have the thruster heading for another target. Work it out to do a grand tour style path so you get the most bang for your thruster fuel buck.

Gentlemen, Gentlemen. (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 4 years ago | (#33430570)

We've been over this many times before, and we already know what the solution [imdb.com] will be, when we are ready to commit to it.

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