Space Junk Wars
Humans haven't only been making a mess here on planet Earth, but out in space as well. Experts now say that the amount of debris caught in the Earth's orbit has reached a critical point that is now in need of a clean up.
Since the dawn of the Space Age, humans have been littering our near space with spare parts and old satellites, accumulating about 22,000 objects that are large enough for officials to track on the ground along with "countless more smaller ones that could do damage to human-carrying spaceships and valuable satellites." When first reports were garnered decades ago about the problem, scientists made changes that worked to limit space junk, making sure that anything that was launched in space would eventually burn up in the Earth's atmosphere and not come hurling back to the ground.
Two events in recent years have tipped the scales drastically, according to the report published by the Independent. Both events involved Chinese missions. The first in 2007 was due to an "anti-satellite weapon test." The second in 2009 happened when two satellites crashed in orbit. According to NASA senior scientist, Donald Kessler, "Those two single events doubled the amount of fragments in Earth orbit" putting back over two times the amount of junk that had been cleaned up in the past 25 years.
A report by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency describes a clean-up attempt called "Catcher's Mitt," which aims to use everything from harpoons and nets, to magnets and an "umbrella-shaped device that would sweep up tiny pieces of debris." Kessler is fond of another idea proposed by an outsourced company that takes a satellite using nets and an electromagnetic tether that would pull junk downward into the burning atmosphere, or launch it out of orbit. Some out of the box-technological creations to this one problem. Now if only NASA could formulate devices to solve pollution crises below the atmosphere.
Epsilon Eridani by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center on Flickr, courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.