Space Truck With Giant Butterfly Nets to Clean Orbiting Trash

space junk orbits the earth
European Space Agency (ESA) computer-generated image of debris in orbit around the earth.

Migrated Image / ESA.int

In the ongoing attempt to come up with the best idea for removing the waste that orbits the earth, we've seen some real doozies for ideas -- from launching water to knock it out of orbit to the more feasible giant GoLD balloon. But the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) thinks that a massive net is a better way to go fishing for space junk.

It is investing in the Electrodynamic Debris Eliminator (EDDE), or the "space garbage truck." Call it what you will, it's an interesting idea.

NetworkWorld writes, "Imagine that each piece of trash floats in space like a butterfly that can be gently scooped up with a net, preventing collisions. Turns out, that's pretty close to reality. It's the concept behind the EDDE, a space vehicle being developed by Star-Tech Inc. with funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency."

The idea is that EDDE is a vehicle equipped with about 200 nets, which could extend out to scoop up garbage. It could then fling the garbage back to earth, allowing it to splash land in the South Pacific, or send the object closer to the planet so it can orbit out of the way until it decays. EDDE can even bring the pieces back so they can be reused to create other equipment.

Creators estimate that 12 EDDE vehicles could capture all 2,465 identified pieces of junk in just seven years. Seven years after the idea launches, that is. Which may never happen.

The developer of the idea, Jerome Peterson of Star Inc, notes that 12 EDDEs may require space traffic control, which would add yet another layer of complexity to the project. Another downside is that the vehicles could be used for military purposes to remove satellites of enemies from orbit. That'd make the project highly frowned upon by some countries with which we have tenuous relationships.

Still, Star Inc is hoping to test out the idea by 2013, and perhaps launch the first EDDE by 2017. Yeah...we'll see.