Researchers develop solution for problem of ‘space junk’

World Today

Pollution is a problem on our planet, and apparently in the skies above it. Man-made space junk is orbiting the Earth, and at times, threaten lives, but there may be an easy solution to the clutter. CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

Doug Campbell, the founder of the Colorado aerospace company Roccor, unfurls an product that could be a game-changer when it comes to an issue that is on the minds of many in the space community.

Campbell is referring to what is termed as space junk, which has created serious congestion above Earth. One estimate puts it at 7,000 metric tons of debris and, Campbell says, it is growing.

“If left unaddressed, it is the problem that could ultimately ruin space, literally,” Campbell said. “It’s trending in an upwards direction.”

Roccor’s drag-sail, made of a membrane like Mylar, is designed to drag and drop objects, computer-style, to space’s trash bin.

“There’s enough aerodynamics up there,” Campbell said “Given enough time, you can slowly create drag that then pulls that object into our atmosphere, burning it up and removing it.”

And soon most, if not all, new satellites launched will have a built-in, deployable de-orbiting device, like that drag sail, that will help them exit the space freeway when their life ends.

Hanspeter Schaub, an Aerospace Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder says that with all the satellites, old rocket parts and other cosmic debris clogging various Earth orbits, collision avoidance and removing space junk have become priorities. In 2009, a U.S. satellite was destroyed when it struck a spent Russian satellite and the International Space Station once had to take evasive action.

Using a vacuum chamber, Schaub is now testing the use of what is called an electrostatic tractor, which employs electron beams to irradiate and move a piece of debris and Roccor is developing ways to eliminate objects that have been orbiting the Earth for decades.

“We are working on technologies to grapple and actively de-orbit for example upper stages of rockets.” said Dana Turse, the Director of R&D Deployable Programs at Roccor

But in the meantime, this drag sail may be among the best ways for avoiding a future cascade of orbital collisions.