(Image credit: NASA)
Humans are not just making a mess of our planet. Since we started exploring the heavens, our divine species has been cluttering up Earth’s orbit. Not long ago, TreeHugger reported on shocking space debris images: space junk circling our earth. The oldest piece is the American satellite, the Vanguard I, launched in 1958. It’s still out there.
Sadly China has been creating space debris intentionally, and America has plans to create some more as well (by shooting down a failing spy satellite).
What’s out there? There are dead satellites, paint flakes, spent rocket stages, and other high-velocity objects such as coolant from nuclear-powered satellites spinning around Earth.
"Space debris has become a major concern recently, since collisions with such debris at ultrahigh velocities could be a disaster for spacecraft that pass through Earth's orbit," says Dr. Noam Eliaz, from Tel Aviv University: "An impact could be catastrophic."Eliaz is conducting new materials research to help reduce the amount of space junk created in the future. And it’s no laughing matter. Man-made debris in Space threatens the lives of astronauts and the successful launch of expensive new satellites, explains Eliaz, who is investigating new materials that could be used on spacecraft surfaces to protect against such hazards.
Retro Rocket Man video by Elton John
Deflecting Space Junk With Nano-Tech
Eliaz is creating nano-based materials that have special mechanical properties: high strength and wear resistance, and controllable electrical and thermal properties which could lead to superior materials for the external blankets of spacecraft, says Eliaz. One candidate in the pipeline is a hybrid nanomaterial that incorporates small silicon-containing cages, which open and react on contact.
"Our simulation studies were done on Earth to determine how space debris will impact new polymers developed to protect space vehicles," says Eliaz, who not long ago was asked by the U.S. Department of Defense recently to advise them on alternatives to hard chromium plating. Now used in aircraft landing gears, chromium VI is a carcinogen, causing agencies to limit or prohibit its use.