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posted by martyb on Thursday June 27 2019, @11:20AM   Printer-friendly
from the reverse-thrust dept.

Previously, the EU-propped Ariane Group's CEO scoffed at the idea of pursuing reusable rockets (the upcoming Ariane 6 is fully expendable) due to Europe having a small market of 5-10 launches per year, as well as the potential effects on rocket-building jobs:

[Chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain] Charmeau said the Ariane rocket does not launch often enough to justify the investment into reusability. (It would need about 30 launches a year to justify these costs, he said). And then Charmeau said something telling about why reusability doesn't make sense to a government-backed rocket company—jobs.

"Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year," he said. "That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: 'Goodbye, see you next year!'"

This seems a moment of real irony. Whereas earlier in the interview Charmeau accuses the US government of subsidizing SpaceX, a few minutes later he says the Ariane Group can't make a reusable rocket because it would be too efficient. For Europe, a difficult decision now looms. It can either keep subsidizing its own launch business in order to maintain an independent capability, or it can give in to Elon Musk and SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin. Charmeau seems to have a clear view of where he thinks the continent should go.

Now, the attitude has changed:

Europe says SpaceX "dominating" launch, vows to develop Falcon 9-like rocket

This month, the European Commission revealed a new three-year project to develop technologies needed for two proposed reusable launch vehicles. The commission provided €3 million to the German space agency, DLR, and five companies to, in the words of a news release about the project, "tackle the shortcoming of know-how in reusable rockets in Europe."

This new RETALT project's goals are pretty explicit about copying the retro-propulsive engine firing technique used by SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 rocket first stages back on land and on autonomous drone ships. The Falcon 9 rocket's ability to land and fly again is "currently dominating the global market," the European project states. "We are convinced that it is absolutely necessary to investigate Retro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies to make re-usability state-of-the-art in Europe."

Ariane Group isn't one of the five companies, but then again, €3 million isn't a lot of money.

Even a fully reusable rocket is on the table:

[...] attitude of the new RETALT project appears to have indicated European acceptance of the inevitability of reusable launch vehicles. Engineers will work toward two different concepts. The first will be a Falcon-9-like rocket that will make use of seven modified Vulcain 2 rocket engines and have the capacity to lift up to 30 tons to low-Earth orbit. The second will be a more revolutionary single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that looks like the Roton rocket developed by Rotary Rocket about two decades ago.

They should mine Elon Musk's Twitter for clues. Try making the rocket out of stainless steel.

Previously: Full Thrust on Europe's New Ariane 6 Rocket
SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News


Original Submission

Related Stories

Full Thrust on Europe's New Ariane 6 Rocket 5 comments

Manufacturers say they are making rapid progress in the development of Europe's new rocket - the Ariane 6.

The vehicle is due to enter service in 2020, gradually replacing the existing workhorse, the Ariane 5.

The prime contractor, the recently rebranded ArianeGroup, gave an update on the status of the programme here at this week's Paris Air Show.

"We're on track with our roadmap and Ariane 6 is progressing very well," CEO Alain Charmeau told BBC News.

"Perhaps the most spectacular highlight at the moment is the testing of our Vinci engine. It's a brand new engine that will be on our new, versatile upper-stage. And on Monday we had another successful test. We're now well above 100 hundred tests."

The Vinci can be stopped and restarted multiple times. It will permit the Ariane 6 to conduct a broader range of missions than its predecessor.

It can also bring the upper-stage out of orbit after it has dropped off the satellite payload. This is a nod to the tightening "clean space" requirements that demand rocket operators leave as little debris in space as possible.

Also mentioned were the A62 and A64 variants which feature a central, liquid-fueled (hydrogen and oxygen) core combined with either 2 or 4 solid-fueled boosters.


Original Submission

SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News 12 comments

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) believes that SpaceX will realize significant cost savings with reusable boosters (archive) without needing to launch them ten times each — as bitter SpaceX competitor United Launch Alliance asserts:

Gerd Gruppe, a member of DLR's executive board and responsible for DLR's space program, said the agency has concluded that SpaceX is on the verge of realizing the savings it has promised from reusing first stages. "With 20 launches a year the Falcon 9 uses around 200 engines, and while their cost of refurbishment is unknown, we think SpaceX is well on the way to establishing a competitive system based on the reusability" of the rocket's first stage, Gruppe said here Oct. 24 at the Space Tech Expo conference.

Not everyone is so sure. Leslie Kovacs, executive branch director at United Launch Alliance (ULA), said ULA has concluded that SpaceX needs to refly Falcon 9 first stages 10 times each to make reusability pay. "The question of reusability is not a technical problem. It boils down to an economic problem," Kovacs siad here Oct. 24. "Our internal analysis shows that if you are going to do that [reuse the first stage], the break-even point is about 10 times. You have to bring back that first stage 10 times for it to be economically beneficial for you."

Meanwhile, SpaceX has thrown the future of the European commercial launch provider Arianespace into doubt. Although Arianespace plans to launch its cheaper Ariane 6 rocket in 2020, it may not be able to compete with SpaceX's reusable rockets even with European subsidies (which Germany is reluctant to provide):

Ariane CEO Frustrated by SpaceX, China's First Private Rocket Company Conducts Launch, and More 27 comments

Ariane chief seems frustrated with SpaceX for driving down launch costs:

[...] chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain Charmeau, gave an interview to the German publication Der Spiegel. The interview was published in German, but a credible translation can be found here. During the interview, Charmeau expressed frustration with SpaceX and attributed its success to subsidized launches for the US government. [...] Even as Charmeau decries what he calls subsidies for SpaceX from the US government, he admits that Ariane cannot exist without guaranteed contracts purchased by European governments. To make the Ariane 6 vehicle viable, Charmeau said Ariane needs five launches in total for 2021 and eight guaranteed launches for 2022.

[...] Charmeau said the Ariane rocket does not launch often enough to justify the investment into reusability. (It would need about 30 launches a year to justify these costs, he said). And then Charmeau said something telling about why reusability doesn't make sense to a government-backed rocket company—jobs. "Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year," he said. "That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: 'Goodbye, see you next year!'" This seems a moment of real irony. Whereas earlier in the interview Charmeau accuses the US government of subsidizing SpaceX, a few minutes later he says the Ariane Group can't make a reusable rocket because it would be too efficient.

China's first private rocket reaches 127,000 feet on maiden flight:

Elon Musk: Why I'm Building the Starship Out of Stainless Steel 38 comments

Popular Mechanics has interviewed SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about his decision to move to a stainless steel design for Starship Super Heavy (formerly BFR). The interview reveals new details about the design, including micro-perforations on the outside of the windward side of the rocket that can bleed water or fuel for cooling:

Ryan D'Agostino: How does stainless steel compare [to carbon fiber]?

Elon Musk: The thing that's counterintuitive about the stainless steel is, it's obviously cheap, it's obviously fast—but it's not obviously the lightest. But it is actually the lightest. If you look at the properties of a high-quality stainless steel, the thing that isn't obvious is that at cryogenic temperatures, the strength is boosted by 50 percent.

Most steels, as you get to cryogenic temperatures, they become very brittle. You've seen the trick with liquid nitrogen on typical carbon steel: You spray liquid nitrogen, you can hit it with a hammer, it shatters like glass. That's true of most steels, but not of stainless steel that has a high chrome-nickel content. That actually increases in strength, and ductility is still very high. So you have, like, 12 to 18 percent ductility at, say, minus 330 degrees Fahrenheit. Very ductile, very tough. No fracture issues.

[...] [Here's] the other benefit of steel: It has a high melting point. Much higher than aluminum, and although carbon fiber doesn't melt, the resin gets destroyed at a certain temperature. So typically aluminum or carbon fiber, for a steady-state operating temperature, you're really limited to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. It's not that high. You can take little brief excursions above that, maybe 350. Four hundred, you're really pushing it. It weakens. And there are some carbon fibers that can take 400 degrees Fahrenheit, but then you have strength knockdowns. But steel, you can do 1500, 1600 degrees Fahrenheit.

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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @01:16PM (14 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @01:16PM (#860491)

    > "Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year," he said. "That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: 'Goodbye, see you next year!'"

    The purpose of everything to these bureaucrats is as a jobs program.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @01:20PM (6 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @01:20PM (#860494)

      SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why should a government pay more for a launch, if they do not need to? The money can better be spent on streets, bridges or repairing school buildings for example.

      Charmeau: The simplest reason: It creates jobs in Germany.

      https://i.reddit.com/r/spacex/comments/8kbgvj/alain_charmeau_chief_of_ariane_group_the/ [reddit.com]

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by quietus on Thursday June 27 2019, @05:38PM (5 children)

        by quietus (6328) on Thursday June 27 2019, @05:38PM (#860620) Journal

        Selective, much? Let me retort with the money quote which you, as a good, honest and trusting, taxpayer should have opened with:

        You have to ask yourself why SpaceX is charging the US government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper. Why do they do that?

        (Part of the) answer:

        They do that to kick Europe out of space. The public and the politicians should know that. It is about the question, if Europe will still be active in space tomorrow. Our US friends do not really support this. I will immediately subscribe contracts with European governments for 100 million dollars per launch. This is the price, SpaceX is charging their own government. But if the German government insists to buy launches as cheap as possible, our US competitor benefits from that.

        Once NASA was the pinnacle of technological achievement, an institution the rest of the world looked up to. Now apparently its only function is to be sold off, and pissed upon, by "entrepreneurs".

        You might want to think about the valid points the guy makes.

        • (Score: 1, Troll) by takyon on Thursday June 27 2019, @06:29PM (1 child)

          by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday June 27 2019, @06:29PM (#860636) Journal

          The guy is a loser and his point was no good at all. Already addressed in another comment.

          Arianespace will have to adapt or die. Full reusability is what will unlock humanity's future in space. But SpaceX was able to beat them and many others even without partial reusability.

          India's ISRO is competing effectively with SpaceX, developing some good rockets, and is pursuing reusability. China will probably be able to catch up. Europe? Meh.

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          • (Score: 2) by quietus on Friday June 28 2019, @06:18AM

            by quietus (6328) on Friday June 28 2019, @06:18AM (#860845) Journal

            The guy is an engineer who worked himself up through the ranks -- responsible for Ariane 5 development and ISS projects -- to become Director of Operations of the Space division of Airbus in 2013, and finally CEO for the last three years of his career (2015-2018). He's not an upper-class MBA, nor has he ever worked in administration.

            The cost of an Ariane 5 launch was about $60 million, in 2014. The cost of a SpaceX launch, as proposed to the German government, is around $50 million, in 2018. Those same launches though, are being sold to the US government for $100 million a pop. If you're all for the free market, this must grate.

            Why is the US government buying overpriced SpaceX launches while they could have bought them far cheaper on the open market? (The money can better be spent on streets, bridges or repairing school buildings for example.)

            In 2017 there were -- worldwide -- 91 satellite launches. Of these, 62 were so-called institutional launches: launches which were not open to competition. Arianespace had only 2.5 of these (he'd like to see [lecho.be] that number rise to 5 a year). Guess who had the bulk of these 'institutional' launches?

            You claim that reusability is going to be the future of space travel. I haven't investigated technically, so no opinion there, only three remarks:

            1. Price apparently isn't the explanation, as Ariane5 is already (more than?) competitive, and Ariane 6 is going to push these costs down even further.
            2. Arianespace doesn't foresee it becoming important in the immediate future. The crucial factor, a reusable engine (Prometheus), has a 2030 horizon.
            3. This RETALT thing which is represented in the sub as somehow being affiliated with the European Commission: it isn't. They're some kind of research project, sponsored partly by the German Aerospace Center and a couple of small German companies: they have 16 staff members [retalt.eu] (which explains the €3 million funding amount.)
        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday June 28 2019, @12:02PM (2 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday June 28 2019, @12:02PM (#860905) Journal

          You have to ask yourself why SpaceX is charging the US government 100 million dollar per launch, but launches for European customers are much cheaper.

          Well, sure, NASA is willing to pay more. But there is plenty of grief attached to that NASA money. Launches aren't equivalent in cost. NASA has all kinds of special requirements that drive up the cost of launch.

          You might want to think about the valid points the guy makes.

          One of those valid, but unintended points is that the Ariane rocket is a dead end. He can only keep the mess going with subsidized launches from "European governments" (which may end up being private companies with substantial government ownership, a common feature in the European economy). Those governments can save plenty of their taxpayers' money, should that ever become important to them, by going with SpaceX.

          Nobody with control over their own money will pay $100 million for a launch.

          • (Score: 2) by quietus on Friday June 28 2019, @03:00PM (1 child)

            by quietus (6328) on Friday June 28 2019, @03:00PM (#860941) Journal

            What leads you to the conclusion that the Ariane rocket is a dead end?

            As to your "private companies with substantial government ownership": funny how they only result in about 2 subsidized missions a year (see my response to takyon), while the rest of their launches (11 in 2017, and again 11 in 2018) go at the open market rate of $60 million. Funny also how those European governments go for the bottom price on the market, even for launching their own military satellites.

            In contrast to that despicable socialist behaviour, SpaceX's launches were subsidized 6 out of 17 (2017) and 7 out of 19 (2018).

            It is you who subsidize these launches, not the Europeans: for the benefit of a private company, spaceX, and to the detriment of a once proud, public, institution, NASA.

            As you remarked yourself: Nobody with control over their own money will pay $100 million for a launch. And yet you do.

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Saturday June 29 2019, @12:11PM

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday June 29 2019, @12:11PM (#861304) Journal

              What leads you to the conclusion that the Ariane rocket is a dead end?

              It needs 10 subsidized launches a year (it's not flying ten times a year now). Even you admit that SpaceX doesn't fly that many supposedly subsidized flights.

              Funny how they only result in about 2 subsidized missions a year (see my response to takyon), while the rest of their launches (11 in 2017, and again 11 in 2018) go at the open market rate of $60 million.

              I'd put that figure closer to 11 subsidized launches out of 11 each year (mostly of non-Ariane platforms like Soyuz). Europeans play these accounting games all the time. Arianespace, the builder of the Ariane rocket gets subsidies [aviationweek.com] around 100 million Euro a year (with Arianespace supposedly mulling at the time whether to request an increase in those subsidies). Meanwhile even on the NASA flights, which BTW are more costly than normal flights due to stringent NASA demands, SpaceX gets paid for launches provided.

              It is you who subsidize these launches, not the Europeans: for the benefit of a private company, spaceX, and to the detriment of a once proud, public, institution, NASA.

              NASA jumped the shark decades ago. If my taxes weren't allegedly subsidizing SpaceX, they'd be subsidizing the military industrial complex (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK).

              As you remarked yourself: Nobody with control over their own money will pay $100 million for a launch. And yet you do.

              Control over their own money.

              The difference here is that Arianespace needs those subsidies to exist. Any such subsidies for SpaceX are pure profit and turned into more R&D. When are we going to see the Ariane 6? How many SpaceX R&D cycles will happen before we see this next generation of rockets from Europe? So no present without subsidies and no future without much more subsidies. That's what makes Ariane a dead end.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by takyon on Thursday June 27 2019, @01:50PM (1 child)

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday June 27 2019, @01:50PM (#860502) Journal

      Yeah, it is older material so I spoiler blocked it, but it bears repeating and is still incredible to read.

      Also, he doesn't understand why SpaceX charges the U.S. government more (e.g. for Commercial Resupply Services). It's due to more stringent requirements and ineffective competition (with mandate of using a U.S. launch provider). But in fact, SpaceX is starting to charge the U.S. very low prices for missions:

      NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Asteroid Redirect Test Mission [nasa.gov]

      The total cost for NASA to launch DART is approximately $69 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

      That's close to the prices that have been advertised (but are sadly years out of date [spacex.com] now that boosters are being reused).

      SpaceX even filed a protest [spacenews.com] over the Lucy mission:

      The protest, filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Feb. 11, is regarding a NASA procurement formally known as RLSP-35. That contract is for the launch of the Lucy mission to the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter, awarded by NASA to ULA Jan. 31 at a total cost to the agency of $148.3 million.

      $148 million is $80-100 million more than what SpaceX would charge, likely peanuts compared to total mission cost, and a lot less than ULA used to charge. But SpaceX still filed the protest (dropping it in later [soylentnews.org], maybe in return for DART mission or realizing that the dispute would hurt NASA).

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @01:55PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @01:55PM (#860504)

        Reminds me of the paperclip optimizer that will destroy civilization and itself in the process of making as many paperclips as possible.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by RamiK on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:04PM (2 children)

      by RamiK (1813) on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:04PM (#860510)

      The purpose of everything to these bureaucrats is as a jobs program.

      Planned obsoleteness and other trade protections are practiced in every professional field and walk of life. The USG's ban on Chinese and Indian launch platforms for US satcoms means Musk is receiving his trade protection elsewhere.

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      compiling...
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by takyon on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:34PM (1 child)

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:34PM (#860530) Journal

        Musk got an ISS contract at a crucial time in his company's history, allowing SpaceX to become what it is today. The company definitely owes its success to the U.S. government.

        But the launch provider/services market is a small portion of the overall space industry. The amount of launches per year isn't increasing much, and even if SpaceX dropped superheavy launch prices to $10 million, there would be a lag of years before universities and companies would take advantage of it, increasing annual launches, and SpaceX would earn less revenue per launch.

        That's why SpaceX is diversifying with Starlink and predicts that it will be their top source of revenue by far.

        An ISS contract or national security launch here or there won't mean much in comparison soon. In fact, even the Air Force is looking at using Starlink.

        Given that SpaceX is developing its rockets for relatively little money, what could the company do with tens of billions per year? They could absolutely dominate the commercial market. They could refine 9-meter Starship/BFR and think about an optional 12-meter ITS, nuclear rocket engines [nextbigfuture.com], etc. Other launch providers will exist in Europe, India, Russia, China, etc. But they will be government supported and will be copying SpaceX innovations if they know what's good for them. I doubt it will be long before they replicate what has been done with Falcon 9, and they will come up with fully reusable rockets eventually. Even if they can't effectively compete with BFR, they will save a lot of money.

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        • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Thursday June 27 2019, @05:02PM

          by RamiK (1813) on Thursday June 27 2019, @05:02PM (#860605)

          Given that SpaceX is developing its rockets for relatively little money, what could the company do with tens of billions per year? They could absolutely dominate the commercial market.

          Or they'll end up like Colt, Lockheed, Apple and Microsoft: Accumulating money and doing nothing innovative with it. Considering Musk's love of tunnel digging, I'd go with my prediction.

          Other launch providers will exist in Europe, India, Russia, China, etc. But they will be government supported and will be copying SpaceX innovations if they know what's good for them

          It's all government supported. The launch market is 99% satcoms and that's just one local monopoly or the next whichever way you turn the globe. The Europeans will follow the US lead for the same reason they also produce shitty over-engineered weapons and automobiles: They have, and would like to maintain, an excess of high salary STEM workers. The Russians, Indians and Chinese will just shake their heads and go with the AK47 of launch systems to produce some dirt cheap expandable rockets that they'll manufacture on a line manned by technicians and robots. And before you know it SpaceX will enter that too-big-to-fail companies list from before.

          Let me make a little prediction of my own: Soon enough, the state-funded NASA pork train will stop at SpaceX's station. They'll hand out a fat contract under the condition Musk is only to buy from a list of local companies. And just like Tesla, SpaceX will jump at the offer making themselves overpriced and irrelevant to foreign customers.

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          compiling...
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:48PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:48PM (#860535)

      Of course he also didn't factor in that with reusable rockets, rocket starts may just get cheaper, which in turn means they might have more than ten rocket starts per year.

      Not to mention that the people building those rockets surely are also able to build other things useful in space exploration during the time they don't spend building rockets.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by HiThere on Thursday June 27 2019, @04:26PM

      by HiThere (866) Subscriber Badge on Thursday June 27 2019, @04:26PM (#860592) Journal

      I don't think you understand. So let me explain:

      The US once had the technical skills to build the Centaur rocket. It doesn't anymore, because the teams were disbanded, and the knowledge was lost. No single person ever knew enough to build that rocket, but the team did. However, in order to keep their skills they needed to exercise them periodically.

      You really *can't* build one rocket, disband the team, and then, a year later, build another rocket. Each one would need to be developed separately, and you don't want to think about what that does to the cost.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:05PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:05PM (#860511)

    With recent talk of replacing capitalism, it worked great in this case, a New upstart disrupting stale incumbents content to rest on their laurels

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @03:46PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @03:46PM (#860567)

      It has hints of capitalism but neither the US nor world economy is anything near capitalist.

  • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:17PM

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Thursday June 27 2019, @02:17PM (#860517) Journal

    or it can give in to Elon Musk and SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin.

    Europe doesn't have to give in to all of them, do they? Wouldn't one be sufficient? Unless, of course, Europe just likes being a passaround bitch. Different strokes for different folks, right?

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by DannyB on Thursday June 27 2019, @04:18PM (3 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday June 27 2019, @04:18PM (#860584) Journal

    If rocket launch prices get cheap enough, might it become reasonable for governments to try to clean up some of the space junk?

    Maybe cooperate on it?

    Is such a thing feasible?

    Might it simply become necessary to get rid of some of the oldest junk that predates the idea that satellites should have an end of life plan.

    --
    The lower I set my standards the more accomplishments I have.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @08:06PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27 2019, @08:06PM (#860670)

      No.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by pe1rxq on Thursday June 27 2019, @09:22PM

      by pe1rxq (844) on Thursday June 27 2019, @09:22PM (#860700) Homepage

      They can't even cooperate to clean up earth-junk.
      Let alone stop producing huge amounts of earth-junk.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Thursday June 27 2019, @09:55PM

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday June 27 2019, @09:55PM (#860713) Journal

      Depends on the goal, I think. Debris below a certain size might be difficult to gather.

      I'm thinking you just send up an ion engine spacecraft that can adjust its orbit hundreds of times to catch up with and intercept pieces of debris. It would collect them using various methods (nets, magnets, etc.) and deorbit after a certain amount is gathered.

      The threat of space debris is exaggerated though. The scenario shown in Gravity is absurd, and the debris occupies a 3D space larger than the volume of Earth with a "surface" larger than Earth's at any given altitude. You can produce a scary looking map of space debris, but you would have to really work at colliding with it most of the time.

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