Space Junk Solution: Scientists Suggest Blasting It with Lasers

Computer generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. NASA

(WAKO, Japan) — The secret weapon of the future to blast away space junk: Lasers.

Scientists at the Riken Computational Astrophysics Laboratory in Japan are proposing a laser defense system be mounted to the International Space Station to clear away space trash that could jeopardize the outpost.

The space junk defense plan includes a wide-view telescope to detect space debris and a laser system to shoot the projectiles out of the space station’s path.

“Our proposal is radically different from the more conventional approach that is ground based, and we believe it is a more manageable approach that will be accurate, fast, and cheap,” scientist Toshikazu Ebisuzaki said in a statement.

If all goes according to plan, the laser pulses would push the object away from the International Space and lead it back toward Earth’s atmosphere where it would burn up on re-entry.

Ebisuzaki and his team said they hope to deploy a proof of concept version to the International Space Station pairing a 20-centimeter version of the telescope with a 100-fiber laser. If that works, the plan would then be to bring a full-scale three-meter telescope and 10,000 fiber laser to the space station.

Capturing space junk has been a challenge since the items are in different orbits. Ebisuzaki and his team estimate there are 3,000 tons of man made space junk in orbit, including rocket parts, old satellites and various fragments of the items create after collisions.

After five years of deployment, Ebisuzaki said he believes the telescope and laser system has the capability to remove most centimeter-sized space junk from orbit.

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  • Hewitt Rose

    Push it out of the way with a laser? Space junk is moving very fast; even small pieces have a lot of inertial. Light can push but only gently. It needs time to push something a significant distance. So how does this work?

    • sbuff

      I think I remember reading somewhere that the heat from the “lay-zer” would cause the object to burn, and the off-gassing would act like a jet to either slow it down or alter course enough that it would eventually fall into the atmosphere. Could be completely wrong, it’s happened before, it’ll happen again.

    • Strathog

      Simple … a small nudge at the right time will change the orbit from circular to eccentric, Eventually, the particle/object will start hitting the upper atmosphere and its orbit will degrade. Then, some time later, the object will plunge into the atmosphere and burn up harmlessly. You don’t want to blast objects to smithereens as that just makes a bigger mess. The goal is to herd them gently towards the Earth and let them burn up.

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