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posted by Fnord666 on Thursday April 20 2017, @04:32AM   Printer-friendly
from the what-a-piece-of-junk! dept.

Scientists sounded the alarm Tuesday over the problems posed to space missions from orbital junk—the accumulating debris from mankind's six-decade exploration of the cosmos.

In less than a quarter of a century, the number of orbiting fragments large enough to destroy a spacecraft has more than doubled, a conference in Germany heard.

And the estimated tally of tiny objects—which can harm or degrade spacecraft in the event of a collision, and are hard to track—is now around 150 million.

"We are very much concerned," said Rolf Densing, director of operations at the European Space Agency (ESA), pleading for a worldwide effort to tackle the mess.

"This problem can only be solved globally."

Travelling at up to 28,000 kilometres (17,500 miles) per hour, even a minute object impacts with enough energy to damage the surface of a satellite or manned spacecraft.

If you always wondered why the Death Star had a trash compactor, here's your answer.


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @04:42AM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @04:42AM (#496691)

    Make a Deal with Mexicans who drive scrap metal trucks down back alleys, sell them spaceships instead, and pay them to collect space junk in orbit. Accomplish two goals. Clean up the space junk. Get the Mexicans out of sight.

    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @08:10AM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @08:10AM (#496753)

      Just build a wall around Earth... done.

      • (Score: 3, Funny) by DannyB on Thursday April 20 2017, @07:05PM (1 child)

        by DannyB (5839) on Thursday April 20 2017, @07:05PM (#497009)

        That is called a Donaldson Sphere. A mega structure constructed around the Earth. To keep out the aliens. And we'll make the aliens pay for it.

        Now crazy left wing liberals will complain that the sky is falling because the Donaldson Sphere will block out all sunlight to the surface of the Earth. But don't let them confuse you with facts. Things will be great. Stay inside, enjoy plenty of light powered by unlimited clean coal. And it will put the coal miners back to work. Those hippy liberals promoting solar power will be the laughingstock. How will their solar power work without sunlight?

        • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday April 21 2017, @12:31PM

          by kaszz (4211) on Friday April 21 2017, @12:31PM (#497369) Journal

          It will be powered with great radiation free nuclear power stations. Getting sun light is easy, you just swipe your credit card as long as your credit status is alright..
          No scientist backs the rumors about nuclear being radioactivity is is true. So the budgets talks next week we be great! :p

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @04:55AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @04:55AM (#496695)

    The problem is that the debris is too high up and won't come down, so just increase the Earth's diameter until the debris is on the ground. Then it's still a mess but at least it's easy to get to! "If Muhammad won't come to the mountain then the mountain must go to Muhammad." Most of the space junk is in low Earth orbit so just a small change in diameter will be enough.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @04:58AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @04:58AM (#496696)

    Some things in that article really surprised me, like the ISS apparently having to "often" thrust to avoid collisions. In getting things to space we take advantage of Earth's rotational velocity which means most stuff up there is going to be flying in the same direction minimizing relative velocities. In fact their relative velocities would be 0 thanks to the way orbits work. Your orbital altitude above Earth is interestingly enough decided by, and only by, your orbital velocity. If you're going to 10 units of speed you might be at 1 unit of altitude above earth and everything else at that altitude would also be going exactly 10 units of speed. Is the concern about things on an equatorial orbit getting t-boned by things on a polar orbit? Or is it that those collisions and explosions mentioned have created some microparticles traveling in opposite the normal orbits? I've seen this fear of debris mentioned multiple times, but details are rarely provided.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:50AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:50AM (#496708)

      Orbital mechanics do not work the way you think they work. A tiny difference in inclination or eccentricity can result in objects traveling at hundreds or thousands of m/s relative to each other at the point of intersection.

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by julian on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:53AM

      by julian (6003) on Thursday April 20 2017, @05:53AM (#496710)

      You're forgetting that most orbits are an ellipse, not perfectly round. Actually, all are ellipses, a circle is just a special case of one. Their eccentricity (e) is usually greater than 0. Also, we often launch satellites into inclined orbits, or even polar orbits. Debris (fairings, Yo-yo de-spin counterweights) are pushed away or left behind so they have a slightly different orbit.

      All this gives plenty of opportunities for collisions at dangerous relative velocities, although head-on collisions are probably one of the rarer types for the reason you suggested.

  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Thursday April 20 2017, @07:38AM (3 children)

    by kaszz (4211) on Thursday April 20 2017, @07:38AM (#496740) Journal

    Send up a solar powered satellite laser that with time burns material surfaces such that the vaporized material push the junk closer and closer to the atmosphere and eventually burn up? It of course has to be guided by a database of objects to not de-orbit.

    Any other method with better economic performance?

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by butthurt on Thursday April 20 2017, @08:34AM (1 child)

      by butthurt (6141) on Thursday April 20 2017, @08:34AM (#496759) Journal

      During the late 1990s, the U.S. Air Force's Project Orion was a laser-broom design. Although a test-bed device was scheduled to launch on a Space Shuttle in 2003, international agreements banning powerful laser testing in orbit limited its use to measurements.

      -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_debris#External_removal [wikipedia.org]

      • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @08:09PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @08:09PM (#497036)

        Air Force's Project Orion was a laser-broom design...to launch on a Space Shuttle...international agreements banning powerful laser testing in orbit

        The fact the project manager wore a shiny black helmet with a noisy breather device didn't help the idea along.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @04:46PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @04:46PM (#496931)

      So the James bond villains were actually trying to help everyone before the problem got bad?

      Then they went insane when the stupid people sent hardcore agents after them and now they just play with the shark pool attaching lasers to their heads!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @07:39AM (6 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @07:39AM (#496741)

    Wasn't nasa planing some sort of big net to deorbit a bunch of this stuff I would be willing to sacrifice the GPS sats if that would help

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by canopic jug on Thursday April 20 2017, @08:09AM (5 children)

      by canopic jug (3949) on Thursday April 20 2017, @08:09AM (#496752)

      There were several ideas, but the main one is to work on prevention. However, since accidents will happen, methods for cleanup are also needed.

      The article mentioned several objects smashing together and creating yet more debris. What's not mentioned in the article or summary is that if it gets bad enough, is taht the more it happens the more it will happen. The chain reaction, the Kessler Syndrom [charter.net], will effectively ground us until the unstable orbits clear themselves. Something which would take generations to happen naturally. Even so, the stable orbits would still need clearing out by our own efforts.

      --
      Money is not free speech. Elections should not be auctions.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @10:27AM (4 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @10:27AM (#496779)

        Sure this has been well know as long as I can remember there was fear in the 90's as I recall that there might be a problem launching new sats because the would be hit with space junk , that does not seem to have come to pass but as we go forward it will eventually become a problems which is why I thought there were plans afoot to capture and deorbit some of it, but like most things that make sense I guess you'll get pie in the sky when you die>

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @10:32AM (3 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @10:32AM (#496782)

          sorry about replying to myself but err is the an issue with > brackets because it did not display properly in the posted comment,though it was fine in the preview

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @10:34AM (1 child)

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @10:34AM (#496784)

            Ah I see there is a problem chopping everything between the last angle and the first reverse angle

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @11:14PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @11:14PM (#497110)

              No, not a problem; lrn2html, kthxbai.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @11:09PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20 2017, @11:09PM (#497106)

            You probably want to choose "Extrans (html tags to text)" rather than "Plain Old Text" from the dropdown. More importantly, you should actually look at the preview, because it certainly does work for me -- I even signed out to make sure this wasn't a guest vs. logged-in issue. If you're sure you have found an error with it, you should note the exact text that triggered it, and either report it on github [github.com], or at least post it here (with Extrans).

            "Plain Old Text" passes known and permitted HTML tags through mostly unchanged (a few nonstandard tags are actually translated to the corresponding HTML), but deletes unknown or forbidden tags, and does some magic conversion of newlines to <p> tags. You might think this mode should be called something different, but good luck changing it now.

            "HTML Formatted" does the same HTML tag processing, but no magic linefeed conversion -- linefeeds are passed through as is, and of course ignored by the web browser. If you use this mode and don't want your comment run together as one paragraph, you must put your own <p> or <br> tags in.

            "Extrans (html tags to text)" escapes < and > as the HTML entities &lt; and &gt;, and converts linefeeds to <br> tags.

            For the sake of completeness, "Code" just makes you look like an obnoxious wanker -- never use it unless your entire comment consists of actual code, ascii art, typed tables, or something else that belongs in a fixed-width font. If part of your post is one of those, you may want to use either Plain Old Text or HTML Formatted with the <ecode> (block) or <tt> (inline) tags.

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