Let's Shoot Down Space Debris With Laser Guns

Let's Shoot Down Space Debris With Laser Guns

How do we get rid of pesky space debris? Let the International Space Station open fire with lasers!

These days it seems like everybody wants to go to space, but there's a hurdle in the way - increasing amounts of space debris. Between all the defunct satellites and spent rocket stages floating around, there's all kinds of clutter future astronauts will have to navigate around. Thankfully, a team of researchers have proposed a fantastic sci-fi solution: Fix laser guns onto the International Space Station and shoot debris out of the sky.

Published in the journal Acta Astronautica, the plan is fairly straightforward - and awesome. First, the Extreme Universe Space Observatory telescope would be modified to track space junk - effectively turning the telescope into a sniper's scope. Then the ISS would use a fiber optic CAN laser to fire upon objects, degrading their orbit to burn up in reentry. Considering these lasers were once used to power particle accelerators, they'd be more than suitable for the task.

According to the team's estimates, this system could track and destroy objects as small as a centimeter in diameter, which is important - even small space debris could mess up an astronaut's day. And while the cynicist in me worries this is the first step towards full blown space warfare, at least it's a deterrent for those potential alien invasions we've been expecting for decades.

Source: Acta Astronautica, via Engadget

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I'll just go ahead and ask what everyone will be thinking; Will they make any "pew-pew" noises? And if not, can the sound effect be added via helmet speaker?

This sounds like a pretty useful strategy for now, though it seems like it would play out like an Asteriods: Revenge of the Litter Edition.

Xsjadoblayde:
I'll just go ahead and ask what everyone will be thinking; Will they make any "pew-pew" noises? And if not, can the sound effect be added via helmet speaker?

If they don't I'll be really disappointed.

I will bet my entire life savings that one shooter franchise or another will use this in a game one day.

Also, what exactly is the point if this? I mean the only way that this thing would make a difference is if the laser is on and blasting things 24/7.

Bob_McMillan:
I will bet my entire life savings that one shooter franchise or another will use this in a game one day.

Also, what exactly is the point if this? I mean the only way that this thing would make a difference is if the laser is on and blasting things 24/7.

The alternative would be?

Yes, the cleanup process will be fairly slow, but it needs to start somewhere, and having a system in place to kick it off is hardly a bad thing.

Areloch:

Bob_McMillan:
I will bet my entire life savings that one shooter franchise or another will use this in a game one day.

Also, what exactly is the point if this? I mean the only way that this thing would make a difference is if the laser is on and blasting things 24/7.

The alternative would be?

Yes, the cleanup process will be fairly slow, but it needs to start somewhere, and having a system in place to kick it off is hardly a bad thing.

Maybe just not going into space at all? I mean, those astronauts seem to be doing just fine without all the lasering. And considering that having to build and maintain more of said lasers would require materials to be launched into space, they would probably just reduce all the debris by a little bit, but never by a significant amount. At least, that's what I think will happen. Maybe these lasers don't even need to be maintained, solar powered or some sort.

Fanghawk:

According to the team's estimates, this system could track and destroy objects as small as a centimeter in diameter, which is important - even small space debris could mess up an astronaut's day. And while the cynicist in me worries this is the first step towards full blown space warfare, at least it's a deterrent for those potential alien invasions we've been expecting for decades.

Source: Acta Astronautica, via Engadget

Permalink

If they make the targeting system manual then we will have officially found the coolest job on earth.

"What do you do?"

"I shoot down space debris in the upper atmosphere with a lazer satellite for NASA." *lights cigar*

This may well be the doom of humanity but... yeah This will be awesome and must happen.

I'm sorry I know.. it's crazy but yeah, my 'Oh Yeah' reflex is overriding the ' This will Destroy us all your Fool!' centre of my brain.

Bob_McMillan:

Areloch:

Bob_McMillan:
I will bet my entire life savings that one shooter franchise or another will use this in a game one day.

Also, what exactly is the point if this? I mean the only way that this thing would make a difference is if the laser is on and blasting things 24/7.

The alternative would be?

Yes, the cleanup process will be fairly slow, but it needs to start somewhere, and having a system in place to kick it off is hardly a bad thing.

Maybe just not going into space at all? I mean, those astronauts seem to be doing just fine without all the lasering. And considering that having to build and maintain more of said lasers would require materials to be launched into space, they would probably just reduce all the debris by a little bit, but never by a significant amount. At least, that's what I think will happen. Maybe these lasers don't even need to be maintained, solar powered or some sort.

"Staying on Earth and dying when the sun overheats the planet" isn't really a viable alternative.

I do worry that this would violate that space neutrality treaty (or whatever it was called), though. The treaty could probably be changed, but I don't think Russia's in the mood to play ball, even if the alternative is dooming our planet to Kessler Syndrome.

Recusant:

"Staying on Earth and dying when the sun overheats the planet" isn't really a viable alternative.

I do worry that this would violate that space neutrality treaty (or whatever it was called), though. The treaty could probably be changed, but I don't think Russia's in the mood to play ball, even if the alternative is dooming our planet to Kessler Syndrome.

If my memory serves me well that treaty banned WMDs, so Nuclear Biological and Chemical weapons are banned. A laser used to shoot down junk is not. Also if it's only used for cleaning up then technically it's a tool not a weapon :-P

RicoADF:

Recusant:

"Staying on Earth and dying when the sun overheats the planet" isn't really a viable alternative.

I do worry that this would violate that space neutrality treaty (or whatever it was called), though. The treaty could probably be changed, but I don't think Russia's in the mood to play ball, even if the alternative is dooming our planet to Kessler Syndrome.

If my memory serves me well that treaty banned WMDs, so Nuclear Biological and Chemical weapons are banned. A laser used to shoot down junk is not. Also if it's only used for cleaning up then technically it's a tool not a weapon :-P

I can one up that the Salyut 3 space station had a autocannon on it.
http://www.russianspaceweb.com/almaz_ops2.html

Bob_McMillan:

Areloch:

Bob_McMillan:
I will bet my entire life savings that one shooter franchise or another will use this in a game one day.

Also, what exactly is the point if this? I mean the only way that this thing would make a difference is if the laser is on and blasting things 24/7.

The alternative would be?

Yes, the cleanup process will be fairly slow, but it needs to start somewhere, and having a system in place to kick it off is hardly a bad thing.

Maybe just not going into space at all? I mean, those astronauts seem to be doing just fine without all the lasering. And considering that having to build and maintain more of said lasers would require materials to be launched into space, they would probably just reduce all the debris by a little bit, but never by a significant amount. At least, that's what I think will happen. Maybe these lasers don't even need to be maintained, solar powered or some sort.

The point is that it cleans up the area a little bit. It's like picking up trash at the park. Are you going to pick up all the trash? No. But every little bit helps.

Plus, the amount of debris up there is just growing. Unless we do something about it, eventually we won't be able to get anything up there at all. 'cause unlike the trash at the park, bumping into this debris costs you millions of dollars and possibly lives.

Sounds good on first glance, but is not as good as it may seem. If the laser can blast the debris into the atmosphere or to fly off it would be nice. fracturing it would mean just have smaller more sharp pieces flying around doing more damage. I wouldnt count on it just yet.

Bob_McMillan:

Maybe just not going into space at all? I mean, those astronauts seem to be doing just fine without all the lasering. And considering that having to build and maintain more of said lasers would require materials to be launched into space, they would probably just reduce all the debris by a little bit, but never by a significant amount. At least, that's what I think will happen. Maybe these lasers don't even need to be maintained, solar powered or some sort.

Thats not an alternative. Not going to space is not really an option considering that space exploration has been the most useful technolgical advancement in human history. The technologies discovered while trying to explore space had the best investment/return ratios of anything else in human history. Its not really an option to not do it.

And no, those astronauts are not doing fine. there is a lot of problems involved by debris making liftoffs not possible and debris crashing and destroying sattelites. most of sattelites fuel is used to navigate and avoid debris nowadays.

Strazdas:
Sounds good on first glance, but is not as good as it may seem. If the laser can blast the debris into the atmosphere or to fly off it would be nice. fracturing it would mean just have smaller more sharp pieces flying around doing more damage. I wouldnt count on it just yet.

The laser doesn't "blast" anything, it simply vaporises tiny amounts of the surface of an object in order to alter its velocity, the aim being to slow debris down so that it drops out of orbit and burns up on re-entry. It's not a new idea at all, although this is the first time I've heard of it being proposed being sited entirely in orbit rather than ground based. And there's a good reason for that - on the ground you have essentially unlimited power, while in space you're extremely limited. You would get a bit of gain from not having to fire through the atmosphere, but I don't think that would be anywhere near enough to compensate for the cost of getting everything required, especially generation capacity, into orbit.

RicoADF:
If my memory serves me well that treaty banned WMDs, so Nuclear Biological and Chemical weapons are banned. A laser used to shoot down junk is not.

Correct, the Outer Space Treaty bans weapons of mass destruction from space, but not weapons in general (although weapons and military activity are banned from the Moon and other celestial bodies). However, this is still the main reason this idea has never really gone anywhere. The Outer Space Treaty wouldn't even apply to the more realistic ground based proposals, but just because something isn't banned doesn't mean everyone will be happy if a country starts building weapons capable of knocking everyone else's satellites out of the sky. It's a shame, because space debris is becoming a real problem and we could have started dealing with it years ago, but at this point it's not a technological problem at all, it's entirely a political one.

RicoADF:

Recusant:

"Staying on Earth and dying when the sun overheats the planet" isn't really a viable alternative.

I do worry that this would violate that space neutrality treaty (or whatever it was called), though. The treaty could probably be changed, but I don't think Russia's in the mood to play ball, even if the alternative is dooming our planet to Kessler Syndrome.

If my memory serves me well that treaty banned WMDs, so Nuclear Biological and Chemical weapons are banned. A laser used to shoot down junk is not. Also if it's only used for cleaning up then technically it's a tool not a weapon :-P

You're right. I went and looked it up, and all it bans (in weaponry terms) is NBC stuff. However... you have never argued with a lawyer, have you?

 

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