Shooting Down Space Junk with Giant Lasers
We've seen quite the array of ideas when it comes to dealing with space debris, from giant balloons to firing water at it. The amount of debris in space is a serious issue, as the more clogged it is up there, the harder it is for satellites and crafts to navigate without crashing into something. But this idea would use something far more interesting -- lasers.
PhysOrg reports that a new paper titled Removing Orbital Debris with Lasers proposes "using a high-power pulsed laser system from Earth to create plasma jets on pieces of space debris, slowing them slightly, causing them to re-enter and burn up in the atmosphere or fall into the ocean."
The method is called Laser Orbital Debris Removal (LODR) and it wouldn't require new technology to be developed -- it would use laser technology that has been around for 15 years. It would be relatively cheap, and readily available. The team behind the paper, which is from a company called Photonic Associates, states that the method would cost "only" $1 million per big object removed from orbit, and a few thousand for smaller objects.
Wired writes, "Using ground-based lasers eliminates the need to launch a vehicle into space, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars... Perhaps the main criticism of such a project would come from the international community, which might fear that a powerful enough laser could be used for military purposes such as hitting enemy satellites. Because of such political complications, NASA’s official line is that 'any laser proposal is dead on arrival,' said Kessler."
Bringing together the international community to agree on using such technology for space debris removal could be a fix for mistrust. But that would be even less likely to happen than the old space garbage truck idea.