In case you dudes don’t know this, Earth is orbited by a whole lot of our trash. That is, we send satellites up to orbit Earth and, eventually, they break down and no longer perform their function. Since we can’t retrieve them and we don’t want to send them crashing down willy-nilly any old where, they get left in orbit.
These dead satellites in orbit, along with all the other space junk and detritus we’ve left up there, all pose navigational hazards and very real dangers for the astronauts working in low-Earth orbit.
Well, some smart dudes who published a recent paper, have an idea what to do about that. Basically, they want to shoot lasers at the dead space junk.
This picture has absolutely nothing to do with using lasers to deorbit space junk. It’s people using lasers to measure the distance to the moon. It’s just such a very cool picture that I had to include it.
No, anyway, these dudes want to shoot lasers at the space junk to slow it down in its orbit. Yeah, light can actually do that sort of thing.
It’s actually a pretty simple idea – laser pulses fired at a piece of debris act as a force which slow it down, thus changing its orbit and eventually making it fall into the atmosphere and safely burn up. It was first proposed 15 years ago but it’s only recently that technology has advanced to a stage that it could be built.
Because we’d be constantly controlling it, we could determine where the space junk would deorbit so that it could splash down somewhere people aren’t. You know, we’d probably really had to have a satellite crash down in, say, New York or Tokyo.
The authors of the paper say this sort of thing will need a lot of international cooperation, not because of how difficult it would be to construct, but to avoid the appearance that building a giant laser gun isn’t actually them building a giant laser gun to, you know, rain destruction down on the puny mortals who dare question their divine right to rule.
You know. Like you do.