Archive for the ‘Space Junk’ Category

Minimizing future space debris is of significant importance because there are no proven, cost-effective methods to reduce existing debris.

The ideas that appear to have the most merit, like GOLD, have narrow solution-sets, like being constrained to low earth orbit or mitigating future debris.

I hate to be a defeatist, but pending a breakthrough in propulsion, I don’t envision much progress in de-cluttering space.

This piece from is quite excellent in identifying the challenges, which may include a less-dense upper atmosphere.

A less-dense upper atmosphere–although thought to be the same as it was in the late 1960s–might mean slower (by some small amount) deorbits and burn-in.


Will GOLD, the Gossamer Orbit Lowering Device, provide a cheap, fast, and good-enough solution to the problem of space debris in low earth orbit?

GOLD is a very large and very thin balloon–up to 100 meter diameter–which when inflated, increases aerodynamic drag on space debris at low earth orbit by a factor of up to several hundred.  Increased drag means shorter times for an object to de-orbit, described (in a no-doubt best case) “from centuries to months.”

While GOLD or GOLD-like technologies seem to have plenty of merit to help avoid new debris problems–just attach the package to launching space systems like rocket bodies that are debris creators– it also claims to be able to mitigate existing debris.

This would be done by co-orbiting with the piece of space debris and robotically attaching a GOLD device to the debris.  That scheme seems a bit… further out (so to speak).

Envisat, the European Space Agency’s $3 billion, 17000-plus pound earth observation satellite will be the biggest–physically at least–risk to satellites operating in polar orbits for the next 150 years.

What happens in 150 years to change things?  It burns in.

You would think the ESA has considered using whatever maneuver fuel is available to try and move Envisat to a less dangerous position, right?  Right?

Or is more likely that because this is a $3 billion mission the ESA will wring every bit of performance they can out of Envisat and then, to quote Fleetwood Mac, will tell the satellite “you can go your own way”?

The Space News link talks of Envisat having to maneuver to avoid a 3000-plus pound Chinese upper stage.  That debris field would likely have been one for the ages.

Do you ever wonder if (in Dr. Strangelove’s voice) “Computers are writing internet articles”?

I do, especially when I read We’re pigs in space, but Aussie technology set to clean up orbiting mess.

Example 1: “The EOS system involves special cameras peering into the night sky to locate the debris.”  Special cameras, eh?

Example 2: “Work is also under way to develop a much more powerful laser capable of punching debris out of orbit so it no longer poses a threat.”  Punch it out, eh?

An article on the same topic is Australian laser system to track space junk which reeks of massive oversell.

Question 1: how many lasers are needed? It will be w-a-y more than just one.

Question 2: this is a laser that works through cloud cover?  Wow!

Question 3: how this will be received by those satellites with sensors that don’t like getting lased?

Finally: you gotta love the line that this “will stop chunks of space debris colliding with spacecraft and satellites.”  Used to warn, perhaps. Stop, no.

The risk of such writing is that people may believe it.  “Space debris?  No problems, mate.  The Aussies have it all put to bed.”

Help!  Stop me before I critique again!

The subtext in the original Washington Post article (registration required) says “Report urges steps to prevent collisions with satellites.”  The ‘report’ being referenced is the not-for-public-release (and interim) Space Posture Review.

However the article, which is the Post’s variation of this Bloomberg article. never really says what steps are required other than “polices and laws to protect the public interest.”

I know this is a thorny issue, but please.  Policies and laws?  How about some thought regarding mitigating the mentioned 370,000 pieces of space junk in orbit between 490 and 620 miles.  End of life satellite disposition?  Design changes?  The space broom?  Hand wave?

Or perhaps an articulation of changes the policies and laws would create and how they would benefit space use.  “Policies and law” are what you say when you don’t know what to say.

Either within five clicks or a half-click depending on which official is talking.

Just a thought from a long ago missile accident involving a Titan II ICBM near Damascus, Arkansas: has it occurred to anyone to tether their tools while on a space walk?