UK Develops Space Garbage Disposal
Space junk is a proliferating problem: tens of thousands of objects ranging from specks of debris to large objects hurtling around the Earth threaten satellites and spacecraft. So far, no one has come up with a solution to clean up the mess. The topic is important enough to be covered by a panel - Critical Issues - Space Situational Awareness & Space Debris - at the 26th National Space Symposium this month in Colorado Springs.
Now, researchers at the Surrey Space Centre in the United Kingdom have an idea that might make a difference - a small satellite cube that deploys a thin, 82-square-foot plastic sheet that, when attached to space garbage, increases drag enough to pull it back into the Earth's atmosphere where it will either burn up or crash where it can be salvaged.
The development team says the CubeSail nanosatellite, which is 4" x 4" x 12" and weighs only 6.6 lbs., would ride piggyback on another mission or as part of a cluster of small satellites that are sometimes sent en mass atop a single rocket, and, eventually, could even be sent to rendezvous and dock with defunct spacecraft to clean them from orbit. If successful, CubeSail could become a regular add-on to launches, opening up a new space business similar to the garbage pickup services here on Earth.
The team plans to launch a demonstration of their CubeSail at the end of next year.
The project is a private venture of the Surrey Space Centre, which is based at the University of Surrey, Guildford, England. It is funded by EADS Astrium, Europe's largest space company and one of the world's biggest manufacturers of satellites. EADS Astrium also produces Europe's heavy-lift rocket, the Ariane 5, which launches about half of the world's commercial satellite platforms. The entire cost of CubeSail project is expected to be no more than $1.5 million.
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