Saturday, 3 September 2011
NASA says "Space Junk" in earth`s orbit needs to be cleaned up
Space junk has made such a mess of the earths orbit that it now poses great risk to astronauts and satellites , experts say we finally need to think about cleaning it up. The area just above the atmosphere has become littered with scrap including old satellites and rocket boosters.
Scientists have warned that with severity of the issue a major clean-up operation should be considered. That may mean vacuuming up debris with weird space technology — cosmic versions of nets, magnets and giant umbrellas, according to the chairman of an expert panel that issued a new report on the problem Thursday.
There are roughly 22,000 objects in orbit that are considered big enough for officials on the ground to track and countless more smaller ones that could do damage to human-carrying spaceships and valuable satellites. The International Space Station has to move out of the way of debris from time to time.
“We’ve lost control of the environment,” said retired NASA senior scientist Donald Kessler, who headed the National Academy of Sciences report.
Since the space age began 54 years ago civilization has intensely littered the earths orbit. Once this was discovered by scientists agreements were made to keep new space junk to a minimum. However two events in the past four years have hindered this - a 2007 Chinese anti-satellite weapon test and a 2009 collision between two orbiting satellites.
“Those two single events doubled the amount of fragments in Earth orbit and completely wiped out what we had done in the last 25 years,” Kessler said.
All that junk that means something has to be done, “which means you have to look at cleaning space,” said Kessler.
The study only briefly mentions the cleanup possibility, raising technical, legal and diplomatic hurdles. But it refers to a report earlier this year by a Defense Department science think-tank that outlines all sorts of unusual techniques. The report by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency is called “Catcher’s Mitt” and it mentions harpoons, nets, tethers, magnets and even a giant dish or umbrella-shaped device that would sweep up tiny pieces of debris.
While the new report does not recommend using the technology, Kessler said it is necessary. He likes one company’s idea of a satellite that is armed with nets that could be sprung on wayward junk. Attached to the net is an electromagnetic tether that could either pull the junk down to a point where it would burn up harmlessly or boost it to safer orbit.
NASA officials said they are examining the study.
The report is from the National Research Council, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, which is an independent organisation chartered by Congress to advise the government on science.
This computer generated graphic provided by NASA shows images of objects in the earth`s orbit that are currently being tracked.