NASA scientists push for a treaty to tackle risky 'space junk'

Mar 10, 2023
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I'm torn between two issues - one the one hand is the impulse to remove all the debris. On the other hand, every bit of 'space debris' in orbit is material that, based on launch cost, is worth its weight in gold. If we have 'junk' in space, then the solution would seem to be 'junk yards' ala 'architectural salvage' yards where the on-orbit materials can be collected and sorted for reuse.

There's something ELSE about the space junk that has value- the mass moving at orbital velocity with momentum. Here's my crazy idea (i.e. an idea I haven't seen anybody else mention)- the 'space-debris I-shot-an-arrow-in-the- air angular-momentum slingshot' - a crazy way to cheaply launch sattelites, reuse the orbital momentum of space debris, and clear away space debris.

Launch something like a 30 kg cube-sat from a sounding rocket- a rocket which simply goes straight UP, with minimal transvers orbital velocity. Give the cube-sat a 'butterfly net' on a tether (carbon-fiber / unobtanium of course). Use the net to collect 30 kg of space debris moving at orbital speed, then spin the tether to sling-shot the cube sat UP into orbit, using the space debris in the net as reaction mass going DOWN to burn up.

The concept is to transfer the transverse orbital momentum from the junk we want to de-orbit over to the cube-sat we want to put into orbit.
Aug 6, 2021
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The Outer Space Treaty, the Registration convention and the Liability Convention cover in part, this. But they don't go nearly far enough. On the high seas, there is a long-standing understanding that derelict vessels must be removed, for the safety of the other vessels using those sea lanes. The money for doing this comes from the insurance companies or the company that owns the vessel. And it strikes me that an extension of this provision to Earth orbit and later to other planets (if we ever get that far) would make excellent sense for keeping Earth Orbit clear enough to continue using it safely.

It would have to be developed as a treaty extending the three treaties mentioned above, and regarded as a natural part of the insurance business when it comes to satellite launch - salvage being, as I said, funded from the likes of Lloyds London, etc. Pass this on to your local friendly NASA/ESA/etc space scientist, space lawyer, parliament/congress representative, etc. Let's get something done about it.
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