Foam-spewing spacecraft could collect space junk ‘like a spider web’ and toss pieces into Earth’s atmosphere to burn
- Space junk in orbit continues to multiply and a Russian startup has a solution
- Foam Debris Catcher is a series of small and autonomous satellites
- Inside the device is a sticky polymer foam that it uses to catch debris
- Once captured, the satellite hurls the junk to Earth’s orbit where it burns
Scientist fear the 129 million pieces of space junk currently orbiting the Earth could duplicate into massive swarms that keep humans from exploring the last frontier.
Now, a Russian startup claims to have a solution – a foam-spewing spacecraft that catches the pieces like a spider web.
StartRocket is developing a ‘Foam Debris Catcher,’ which is a series of small and autonomous satellites that collects and de-orbits space junk using a sticky polymer foam.
Once in its grasp, the satellite drags the debris towards Earth and tosses it towards our planet’s atmosphere to burn.
The firm is currently carrying out experiments both on Earth and in space, with its first orbital test planned for 2023.
StartRocket is developing a ‘Foam Debris Catcher,’ which is a series of small and autonomous satellites that collects and de-orbits space junk using a sticky polymer foam
StartRocket consultant Alexander Shaenko, who has a Ph.D in technical science, said: ‘The problem of space debris is getting more and more serious and presents significant risks for current and future initiatives and technological developments for space exploration.’
‘In the current situation, it is important that the scientific community acts together to find the solution. The Foam Debris Catcher is the cheapest and most scalable solution.
‘We achieve these costs by using all possible technologies: step-by-step launching, high precision mathematical models and Earthly-based infrastructure that tracks garbage.’
The firm plans to send a barrel-shaped Foam Debris Catcher aboard a craft to space.
The firm plans to send a barrel-shaped Foam Debris Catcher aboard a craft to space
The 110-pound autonomous satellite would release from the craft and spew out tentacle-like foam shoots when it is in close proximity to debris clouds
The 110-pound autonomous satellite would release from the craft and spew out tentacle like foam shoots when it is in close proximity to debris clouds.
The foam traps the junk and hurls it into Earth’s atmosphere to burn.
More than 128 million pieces of debris are littering space and can travel as fast as a speeding bullet.
These pieces can destroy satellites, telescopes, spacecraft and one NASA scientist fears they could eventually create the Kessler syndrome.
This theoretical scenario was proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978, which says the density of objects in low-Earth orbit could increase to a point where collisions occur that generates more space debris to the point that it is dangerous for humans to venture off the planet.
The foam is released when the satellite senses a debris cloud
Once in its grasp, the satellite drags the debris toward Earth and tosses it toward our planet’s atmosphere to burn. The firm is currently carrying out experiments both on Earth and in space, with its first orbital test planned for 2023
A recent study has proposed a way to limit the number of satellites in space to help decrease the growing space debris problem
Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder say an international agreement would be needed in order to charge operators ‘orbital use fees’ for every device launched into orbit.
The amount charged would increase each year to 2040 up to $235,000, according to the team, who say the orbit becomes clearer each year, reducing the risk costs.
WHAT IS SPACE JUNK? MORE THAN 170 MILLION PIECES OF DEAD SATELLITES, SPENT ROCKETS AND FLAKES OF PAINT POSE ‘THREAT’ TO SPACE INDUSTRY
There are an estimated 170 million pieces of so-called ‘space junk’ – left behind after missions that can be as big as spent rocket stages or as small as paint flakes – in orbit alongside some US$700 billion (£555bn) of space infrastructure.
But only 22,000 are tracked, and with the fragments able to travel at speeds above 16,777 mph (27,000kmh), even tiny pieces could seriously damage or destroy satellites.
However, traditional gripping methods don’t work in space, as suction cups do not function in a vacuum and temperatures are too cold for substances like tape and glue.
Grippers based around magnets are useless because most of the debris in orbit around Earth is not magnetic.
Around 500,000 pieces of human-made debris (artist’s impression) currently orbit our planet, made up of disused satellites, bits of spacecraft and spent rockets
Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, either require or cause forceful interaction with the debris, which could push those objects in unintended, unpredictable directions.
Scientists point to two events that have badly worsened the problem of space junk.
The first was in February 2009, when an Iridium telecoms satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided.
The second was in January 2007, when China tested an anti-satellite weapon on an old Fengyun weather satellite.
Experts also pointed to two sites that have become worryingly cluttered.
One is low Earth orbit which is used by satnav satellites, the ISS, China’s manned missions and the Hubble telescope, among others.
The other is in geostationary orbit, and is used by communications, weather and surveillance satellites that must maintain a fixed position relative to Earth.