According to NASA, there are up to 500,000 pieces of debris of different sizes, currently orbiting Earth. This space debris is a collection of defunct parts of old satellites, rockets and spacecraft, which has been a major headache for space agencies around the world. It can travel at speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour, which is fast enough to cause serious damage to satellites and even the International Space Station (ISS).
However, Japanese researchers from the Riken research institute have developed an accurate, fast and cheap method of tracking and removing space debris from the orbit.
The plan, which was published in the journal Acta Astronautica, combines data from the super-wide field-of-view EUSO telescope with a high-efficiency laser system that shoots high power beams and removes the objects.
According to the researchers, the infrared telescope of the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO) will track space junk that move at very high speed. The intense laser beam when focused on the object will produce high-velocity plasma ablation and reduce its orbital velocity, deflecting it for a reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. The process, also called plasma ablation, would result in one side of the object heating up and turning into plasma, which would eventually create thrust and cause the debris to burn up.
Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, PhD, Chief Scientist at the Riken research institute, and the lead author of the study, said, “The new method combining these two instruments will be capable of tracking down and deorbiting the most dangerous space debris, around the size of one centimeter. The intense laser beam focused on the debris will produce high-velocity plasma ablation, and the reaction force will reduce its orbital velocity, leading to its reentry into the earth’s atmosphere.”
The researchers have added that a small proof-of-concept experiment is being planned on the ISS, with a small, 20-centimetre version of the EUSO telescope and a laser with 100 fibers.