With humans pushing deeper into space more often, space junk could become a bigger issue as time goes on, and what's there now poses a threat to satellites and spacecraft orbiting the Earth. A number of ideas have been proposed to clean up the junk, but the most recent idea definitely takes the cake.
The idea, developed by researchers from China, is for a space engine that can roam around space and eat up space junk, turning it into fuel for the rocket. Basically, it's a self-powered rocket that eliminates the threat of space junk.
"Space robotic cleaner is adopted to capture the targeting debris and to transfer them into the engine," says the paper. "Debris with larger size is first disintegrated into small pieces by using a mechanical method."
As mentioned, this isn't the first idea for a way to clean up space junk, but one of the biggest problems of other ideas has been that they need massive amounts of fuel to be able to operate. To get around this, researchers came up with the idea that the space junk could be turned into fuel.
To do this, the cleaner will capture debris, then turn large chunks and pieces into dust using a ball mill, which is a type of grinder. The engine will the generate a high temperature, turning the particles into plasma that will propel the craft onward. Basically, the debris takes the place of gases normally used, such as argon.
As Motherboard reports, however, while the idea is good, it's a little more complex than that. The researchers suggest that the cleaner could be either nuclear- or solar-powered, but it's not yet known if these power sources will suffice. Not only that, but there are some questions as to whether or not it's a good idea to have a nuclear-powered spacecraft orbiting Earth.