In the proposed Phoenix program, robotic arms and end effectors can decouple an antenna from its retired military communication satellite and reuse it in a new satellite, saving money, maintaining global coverage, and cleaning up space junk. (Source: DARPA)
Ann, great article--as usual--great job. This is one subject that really interest me and I certainly applaud DARPA for taking a look. NASA tells us the following about space junk:
The overwhelming number of particles are smaller than one centimeter; i.e., 0.39 inches, but others are of considerable size. Estimates are as follows:
· 1,500 pieces of debris weighing more than 100 Kg or 200 pounds
· 19,000 pieces of debris measuring between 1 to 10 centimeters; 3.9 inches
· An unestimated number of particles, mostly dust and paint "chips" resulting from collisions that have occurred with larger objects also orbiting. Some "guesses" put that number into the millions.
For the most part, the debris can be categorized as follows:
· Jettisoned garbage from manned spacecraft, purposefully disposed of into lower earth orbit
· Lost equipment; i.e. cameras, tools, measuring devices, fabric hold-down straps, nuts, bolts, cotter pins, etc.
· Debris from collisions tearing apart structures either jettisoned or lost
· Rocket boosters that orbit yet remain in space. Some, over time, experience decaying orbits, eventually falling to earth.
With at least fifty nations participating within the space environment, the amount of debris can only lessen but not be eliminated. At the present time, over 20,000 pieces of debris are being tracked by these fifty nations. Let's hope DARPA is successful and we can lessen the expense of space exploration.
I meant floating junk. Space junk could be "kicked" into a decaying orbit to land on a vacant lot in NY ! sorry, I meant N. Canada, Russia, or central Oz. ... somewhere that what little remains could relatively easily be salvaged, rather than dumping even more junk in the sea.
Now that is the best idea of all! We have sunk tons of steel and aluminum, plus who knows how much plastic and even wood that could be salvaged without having to use space-faring technology.
However, space does need to be cleaned up. There is a lot of hazardous material "floating" around up there. I don't want a skylab full of nukes and garbage coming down on my head in the middle of the night. Nor do I want to have a high risk of being smashed by Russian/American/Chinese/European/Iranian/Pakistani/N. Korean/Japanese/Texan flotsam and jetsam if and when I decide to venture into space with my junkyard-built touring rocket. Yes, let's get space cleaned up!
How about cleaning up our oceans. Millions of tonnes of junk have collected in the middle of our oceans. Surely an economical means of collecting this could be found. Much of it, I assume, is plastic which could be recycled.
Adding a dash of relativity... As I sit here at my Chromebook, I'm spinning on the surface of the earth at nearly 0.5 km/s. We are all (including the geosynchronous satellites) orbiting the Sun at 30 km/s, orbiting the center of the Milky Way at 250 km/s, and flitting among our local cluster of galaxies at 300 km/s -- for a grand total velocity of over 580 km/s. I'm not sure how I'm able to keep my coffee from spilling on the keyboard.. =]
The Hollywood motif that comes to my mind is Transformers or more specifically Star Trek: The Motion Picture in which Voyager 6 was repaired by a race of machines to become V'Ger, a machine that grew by assembling salvaged parts into itself. It is also suggested that V'Ger was responsible for creating the race known as the "Borg".
While we develop the use of satellites in the creation of SkyNet, now we have to contend with a DARPA initiative to create the Borg. At least we are not genetically modifying apes... no wait...
Yes, I love that motif. It's one of the fascinating aspects to science fiction movies, the actual science. So I was thrilled when Apollo 13 came out. Here was an exciting science fact movie -- the ultimate Sherlock Ohms.
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