Everywhere humans have ever gone, they have left garbage in their wake. This includes space, too. Right now, there are thousands of man-made satellites orbiting Earth, most of which can be classified as space junk. Obviously, with so much floating around space, it is only natural that space program planners are growing increasingly concerned over risks to future missions.
Well, according to a recent proposal, a new kind of satellite could serve as a cosmic cleaner, mopping up near-earth orbit of space junk.
So, how could it work?
According to its designers, the TAMU Space Sweeper satellite would launch into space, hereupon it would start spinning. Directed toward a piece of debris, the satellite would then catch it in a robotic arm, fling the junk down toward Earth and a burn-up in the atmosphere, and then, using the momentum from the first encounter,fly to another target and so-on. The benefits here: minimal fuel and no need to develop new technology. The Space Sweeper is currently in development of Texas A&M University.
If all goes according to plan, the TAMU could help correct a decades-old problem.
Throughout the history of spaceflight, the simple answer of what to do with unwanted material was simple: Just let it float away. Unfortunately, in a problem that couldn't have been unforeseen by someone, Earth's orbit is now becoming filled with pieces of space junk ranging from dead satellites to astronauts' daily garbage. Now, while this may not seem all that big of a problem -- after all, the Earth is over 24,000 miles in circumference -- the cause for concern is that this space litter is just not floating in orbit, but traveling around the Earth at thousands of miles per hour. Needless to say, anything traveling at that speed can do a lot of damage if it were to hit something.
Now, with more junk floating around in space than ever after more than 50 years of spaceflight, some scientists are worried that all of the man-made debris orbiting our planet may pose serious threats to space programs by 2030 if something is not done to clean up space.
Lastly, what are the consequences if we fail to act?
At the rate we humans are going, there are predictions that, in the coming decades, the popular low-Earth and geosynchronous orbits of today may become unusable simply because of all the junk occupying them. Think about it: Would any private business or government agency want to put a satellite into an orbit where it knew the multimillion-dollar piece of equipment was sure to be bashed to pieces? I think not.
So, while the environmental movement on Earth has gone mainstream and is well-entrenched in the public mind, space enthusiasts are undoubtedly hoping that, in the near future,the same can be done when it comes to space junk, too.
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