Belfast Telegraph

International Space Station could be fitted with lasers to shoot down space junk


Scientists want to fit lasers to the International Space Station (ISS) and use them to blast away the estimated 3,000 tons of space debris that flies around the Earth and could be putting it in danger.

The plan, proposed by researchers from the Riken Institute in Japan, would see the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO) telescope that is currently fitted to the ISS converted into a tool for spotting space debris. When that spots a piece of dangerous debris, a laser would be used to fire at bits of space junk until it goes out of orbit and burns up as it goes back towards the Earth.

The plan is one of a number of proposals for dealing with the huge amounts of “space junk” that is in orbit around the Earth. Satellites have crashed into each other in space, distributing vast pieces of junk that could collide with other satellites, as in the film Gravity.

The junk, made up of dead satellites and other objects that have come into Earth’s orbit, poses a threat to the useful satellites that are floating just above the planet — one of which, the ISS, contains people. Other theories have suggested using nets to catch the rocks, or shooting them out with a huge blast of gas.

The team behind the laser plan hope that they can test it out with a small telescope and laser on board the ISS. If that works, scientists hope to put a full version on the ISS.

The team hope that the final version will use a three-meter telescope and a laser built out of 10,000 fibres. That would be able to shoot down space junk from about 100 kilometres.

The team say that if the laser installed on the ISS worked, a devoted one could be sent out into space, towards the altitudes where most of the dangerous debris is.

Source: Independent

Independent News Service