Clearing space junk from Earth's orbit by launching water at it?
Photo credit NASA via Discovery News
Of all the strange ideas I've heard, this tops the list. The amount of catalogued space debris within our planet's orbit increased by nearly 50% since 2007, so DARPA wants to gather ideas for how to clear space junk from Earth's orbit. James Hollopeter of GIT Satellite lends one idea - launch rockets full of water out to space. The idea is to sent rockets loaded up with water into space, release it, and create a wall of water that orbiting junk would bump into, slow down, and fall out of orbit. According to Discovery News, "Launched on ballistic flight paths that quickly re-enter the atmosphere, the water wouldn't add to the debris problem, unlike some other proposals to clean up space...The so-called Ballistic Orbital Removal System could be operated inexpensively by launching water on decommissioned missiles out of suborbital launch complexes, such as NASA's Wallops Island in Virginia, he added."
It sounds like a joke, especially when we consider the water crisis and many other major global issues down here on terra firma, but Hollopeter insists that if paperwork were pushed through NASA, he could get a test operation done in 18 months. Maybe with rising sea levels, we could just launch all the extra ocean water into space and not have to worry about ghost states! *eye roll* Questions that come up off the cuff include how much water this would take, and how much fossil fuel would be used to launch enough water up there to clear out the junk?
At any rate, DARPA wants any and all ideas, since the problem of orbiting space junk is getting ridiculous, with over 20,000 trackable objects catalogued so far and 94% of it being classified as debris.