We’ve been shooting large metal objects into space since 1957. Satellites, rockets, space stations, missiles. So it’s no wonder that a garbage truck is set to launch in 2025 to start cleaning up the mess.

The pioneering ClearSpace device is designed to locate, capture and remove large items that threaten to crash into the satellites orbiting the planet. The problem, experts say, is that there’s probably more than 34,000 pieces of space junk larger that 10 centimeters — and all of it is a hazard.

Orbiting at 17,000 miles per hour, these bits of metal can pierce anything they hit with the velocity of a bullet. 

Sure, there’s a lot of space in space. Our atmosphere starts at about 62 miles above sea level and items can continue orbiting as high as 150 miles. But experts agree that we must think ahead. Every year, countries and private companies launch a steadily increasing number of satellites and other equipment skyward on a collective arsenal of more than 100 rockets every year. 

And the number is only going up. As satellites get more advanced, they get smaller — and as they get smaller, they are easier to put into orbit. In 2017, India launched a record-breaking 104 compact satellites from a single rocket. Some communications companies are planning to deploy clouds of thousands of tiny devices.

The vast majority of satellites launched today are designed to be rocketed back to Earth once they are no longer needed, but that hasn’t stopped the trash heap from growing.

The ClearSpace ‘garbage truck’ is a step in the right direction. Watch the video to see how it works — and how it might create new problems.

 

 

Published on Feb 26, 2020