In what could be a scene taken out of science fiction, scientists from China suggested that the answer to the space junk problem is to blast the debris with lasers.
The accumulation of space debris is a growing threat, and there have been many proposals from various space agencies on how the issue can be addressed. Will China's plan to use lasers neutralize the space junk risk?
China Proposes To Use Lasers To Clean Up Space Debris
In a paper titled "Impacts of orbital elements of space-based laser station on small scale space debris removal," researchers from China's Air Force Engineering University suggested using lasers to blast space junk into smaller pieces that are less harmful to the spacecraft and satellites in space.
There are about 20,000 trackable objects classified as space debris, which include used rocket stages, old satellites, and fragments from other man-made objects. In addition, according to a NASA estimate, there are over 100 million pieces of smaller debris that are smaller than 1 centimeter orbiting around the Earth.
According to a simulation by the Chinese team of researchers, installing a laser station in space will be an effective way to clean up the space junk.
However, there are concerns on China's involvement in such a plan. In addition to the fact that China is one of the worst polluters of space, governments are getting worried that the country is apparently working on space weapons. These weapons may be used not just to clean space junk but also to take out satellites and spacecraft.
Measures Against Space Junk
Early last year, a mission by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to clean up space junk failed. The agency was planning to use an electrodynamic tether to bring all the space debris into a lower orbit. However, the cargo spacecraft that was supposed to perform the mission fell to Earth after delivering supplies to the International Space Station.
Another proposed method for solving the space debris problem was to use a robotic gripper with adhesives that are inspired by geckos.
While space junk continues to be a threat, spacecraft such as the International Space Station need to implement protection measures. The ISS received a new tool in December known as the Space Debris Sensor that will not only shield it from space junk but also analyze the objects that hit it. While the protection is important, analyzing the space debris will provide more information that will hopefully help lessen the risk of collisions.