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July 11, 2011

NASA needs to solve space junk problem

TECHNOLOGY - More than 500,000 pieces of orbiting debris are being tracked by NASA and the problem is only getting worse as more companies put more satellites into orbit which eventually break down and become flying pieces of space garbage.

These pieces of space garbage, thanks to zero resistance and the earth's gravity, can speed up to enormous speeds which makes them a hazard to working satellites and to astronauts working on the International Space Station.

These days astronauts are careful to send any of their garbage back to earth, not wanting to add to the growing problem of space garbage. They even have an Italian made container used just for transporting supplies to the station and transporting garbage back to earth.

But what about the debris outside? Maybe its time to start collecting the space garbage hurtling around the earth? Due to their speeds even small pieces of space junk are potentially dangerous because they could puncture a hole in the International Space Station and cause decompression.

On a regular basis the ISS astronauts have to get into life pods whenever dangerous pieces of space junk whiz by too close to the space station. They will likely have to continue doing this in the future, but what if there was technology available to decrease the amount of space junk so they don't have to do it so often?

Two weeks ago, the six space station residents had to seek shelter in their lifeboats when a piece of junk came within 335 metres, the closest encounter yet. NASA takes these close encounters very seriously because the space junk is sometimes traveling at a speed of 36,000 kmph.



POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

#1. A conventional net to catch larger pieces of space junk.

#2. Large magnets on tethers which draws in the space junk and can be pulled in to later be disposed of properly.

#3. A net with many multiple magnets on them.

Option #3 seems like the best option. A series of these nets could be set up around the International Space Station to catch space junk that is coming nearby. Small boosters in the corners of the nets could be used to move and coordinate the capture of the space junk using sensory equipment. This would solve the immediate danger to the ISS and over time this would decrease the amount of space junk in the same orbit as the ISS.

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