Space Junk Cleanup - Innovation & Responsibility

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From Roscosmos :
Russia, India, USA and Other Countries Are Concerned with Space Debris Problem
March, 9th , Trivandrum, India. Opening of Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) 28th session.

The main purpose of this organization is to develop the measures to ensure the space flight security in the conditions of technogenic space pollution of near-earth space and to develop the space debris mitigation measures.

ROSCOSMOS has delegated a group of specialists headed by Yuri Makarov to participate the session. Plenary session has been opened with welcoming speech of ISRO leaders and IADC delegations leaders.
IADC website : Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee
The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) is an international governmental forum for the worldwide coordination of activities related to the issues of man-made and natural debris in space.

The primary purposes of the IADC are to exchange information on space debris research activities between member space agencies, to facilitate opportunities for cooperation in space debris research, to review the progress of ongoing cooperative activities, and to identify debris mitigation options.

The IADC member agencies include the following:

* ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana)
* BNSC (British National Space Centre)
* CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales)
* CNSA (China National Space Administration)
* DLR (German Aerospace Center)
* ESA (European Space Agency)
* ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation)
* JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
* NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
* NSAU (National Space Agency of Ukraine)
* ROSCOSMOS (Russian Federal Space Agency)
A couple of interesting documents found there :
IADC Presentation to 47th UNCOPUOS STSC (pdf)

Protection Manual (AI 20.1) rev 3.3 (pdf) ( very informative, different technologies, experiment results, tons of pictures, math and data )

Benefits and Risks of Using Electrodynamic Tethers to De-orbit Spacecraft (AI 19.1) (pdf)


Rather long article on Wiki :

Space debris
Space debris, also known as orbital debris, space junk and space waste, are objects in orbit around Earth that were created by humans but no longer serve any useful purpose.


Guest : Space Junk Tracker to Orbit Earth
Mon Jun 14, 2010 07:00 AM ET

By Irene Klotz


* A new satellite system is designed to detect and track orbital debris.
* The information the system relays should help reduce the chances of a collision between spacecraft.
* The telescope abroad can also quickly swivel between orbital targets, saving time and fuel.

A new spacecraft soon will be joining the armada of probes, rocket bodies and other objects circling Earth. Rather than passing on communications signals, tracking hurricanes or staring at stars, however, this satellite will serve as an orbital eye for tracking space debris.

The Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) is an Air Force effort to get better information about the 20,000 or so objects whizzing around the planet. Initially planned as a technology pathfinder, the project will be an operational system. The launch of the first satellite is planned for July.

The Space Based Space Surveillance will work with ground-based radars and telescopes to track orbital debris, hopefully preventing future collisions. NASA


That's good news. Something long needed.

For issues specific to Iridium, I have resurrected an old thread, and will move posts related to the Iridium Constellation (new version) to that thread as I see them. Hope that makes sense to the community.

Meteor Wayne


Okay this is what I think we should do. Build a robotic grappler arm (preferrably with two arms) small enough to be connected to the front of a Dragon/Soyuz/Shenzhou capsule but effective enough to grapple satelittes and small debris. You could set up a craft to be unmanned and controlled from a mission control(s) on earth or the I.S.S. Then you launch a new satellite that has a propulsion bus, solar panels, a guidance system, and the most important part a large payload rack.

I say we salvage what technology we can. Sure many of the satellites in orbit contain outdated technology, but imagine salvaging experiments, sensors, etc. updating them with current technology as much as possible, and reassembling them and install them on the payload rack of the new satellite. This way when the payload rack is full you could have a functioning satellite filled with lots of cool stuff. Each seperate "bus" could have specific functions and installed with specific salvaged satellites and placed into specific orbits based on their use.

Anything else that is not salvagable and is true JUNK could be collected over time by solar sails such as ICARUS and de-orbited. Thus opening up LEO for more satellites (many may be obsolete an thus not launched due to the payload bus satellites), more space stations (OPSEK, Tiangong, BA 330's) traffic from cargo and crew transportations, and hopefully construction projects in orbit to build crewed vessels capable of interplanetary spaceflight (Asteroids, Mars, Titan).

Please, any thoughs on this idea?


Here are half a dozen ideas, maybe fine, maybe poor. All require capital and overcoming gravity to get a machine up there. Some require technology and math that do not presently exist.

When a magnet is placed underneath some iron filings in a tray, the filings arrange themselves into a pattern. When a musical, or even an un-musical, note is applied to sand in a tray, the debris arranges itself according to the pattern of the note. What would be splendid would be some method whereby the space debris arranges itself in response to some space stimulus. The sound method does not apply in the vaccuum but perhaps there is some way to use the energy of a Solar Flare mixing with the Magnetic Field of the earth to bring order to the debris field, a little bit like the Aurora brings order to whatever it is composed of.

Surround each problem piece with glue or resin, or attach a big blob of glue to the big pieces. As the blobs collide with eachother they stick together. The more sticking there is, the more a sticky net comes into being, leading ultimately to a structure that can be used by a later generation of orbit travelers.

Spray them with enzymes or nano-machines to alter the shape of the pieces into something less harmful, or even eat it away to nothingness. The enzymes excrete gas and / or water vapor, and have a life cycle. The machines have a self-destruct built in -- no, not self-destruct; an automatic turn-off date -- something that eliminates them as a threat to proper and correct debris.

Outside the Belts of Radiation, squirt water at the pieces to make them fall to earth. The ice turns to steam and the piece melts. In a "two-squirt" design, one piece falls to earth, the other is shot out into far space, and the machine undergoes no change in relative position.

Inside the belts throw thrust at them to burn or nudge them down. This one squirt technique generates a modest delta V, which can be used to move the machine to the next piece. Space debris mitigation here is more a mathematical-navigational puzzle than an engineering one.

Ideas they are, may be impractical, may be worthwhile.

Principal_Investigator":cfv0mgw0 said:
Dual robotic grappler arm and capsule, large payload rack for salvage, re-positioned to spec. orbit
It sounds appealing, and one two- or four- armed robot will probably be enough. If the eventual solution goes with several smaller robots then they can hold a Tele-Operator Competition. School children compete with eachother to grab a problem piece and place it in a payload rack. They operate a machine that can go up, down, left, or right; a machine that can reach out a long arm and retract. The arm either can have an opening and closing hand, or a magnetic hand for those few iron pieces, or be simply a sticky bob at the end of a cable & winch set-up. They can train in a large swimming pool or small harbor. As adults the competitors provide a pool of talent for future tele-operations. A group of school children design the machines in the first place, in another competition.

David C


Guest : New Study: Space Junk May Stay in Earth Orbit Longer
June 24, 2010

Orbital debris is a troubling issue for operating satellites - Credit: CNES

BOULDER, Colorado – The Earth is encircled by menacing, human-made orbital debris. A new study suggests that long-term change in the Earth’s atmosphere is causing satellites – and troublesome space junk – to stay in orbit for longer than expected.

A research team from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom has found that a contraction of the Earth’s thermosphere — the biggest of all the layers of our planet’s atmosphere directly above the mesosphere and directly below the exosphere — has been attributed to the build-up of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.

That contraction is tied to a drop in the thermosphere’s temperature. Therefore, there is a corresponding decrease in density of that layer.

According to lead researcher at the university, Hugh Lewis, that decrease of atmospheric density may well impact upon the effectiveness of removing space debris – which consists of human-made objects such as redundant satellites, tossed away rocket bodies and other clutter – from orbit.

Approximately 19,000 objects larger than 10 centimeter are known to exist in Earth orbit and less than 10 percent of these are operational payloads, with the remaining population classed as space debris.

These objects represent a significant risk to satellite operations, due to the possibility of damaging or catastrophic collisions, as demonstrated by the run-in between Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 in February 2009.

“As the atmospheric density in the thermosphere decreases, debris can remain in orbit for up to 25 percent longer,” Lewis says. “The fact that these objects are staying in orbit longer counteracts the positive effects that we would otherwise see with active debris removal.”

According to Lewis, their study shows that by doubling the number of debris objects removed each year, “we can get back on track with reducing the debris population. Achieving this target, however, will be challenging,” he adds.

The research was presented here at the National Center for Atmospheric Research during the Sixth Workshop on Long-term Changes and Trends in the Atmosphere.



Simple is the way to go.

A large ball/blob of foam made from a material similar to this expanding spray insulation we see in the stores.

A one ton payload of this stuff will expand to a tremendous volume. Spray it into a giant Kevlar baggie. It will be easily tracked from the ground. As small particles hit the foam the slower velocity particles will embed themselves. The higher velocity ones will pass through but lose speed and de orbit quicker.

Three or four of these at different altitudes will clean things up nicely over the course of a couple of years.

Remember the saying K I S S.


Guest : Obama declares war on space junk
13:15 29 June 2010 by David Shiga

Keeping space debris in check has become a national mission for the US.

The White House yesterday announced plans to share more information with other countries in a bid to prevent satellite collisions. The US will also fund research into cleaning up the space junk that's already there.

Each new US president issues a list of priorities and positions related to outer space. Many elements, such as support for space exploration, tend to stay constant from one administration to the next.

However, Barack Obama's National Space Policy includes new language on space debris, calling for the US government's orbital tracking information and collision predictions to be shared with industry and other countries – a move that some have long sought.

More links about the policy, including original document from the White House :
SDC thread : Obama's "New" Space Policy


space junk.

hello all, new to this so please be gentle.

The ESA is trying to enlist the help of various acedemic institutions, with a view to implementing a workable solution to the problem of man-made debris and the problem that it creates for current and future space missions. what are the solutions ? does anyone here have opinions on possible solutions or ideas as to how to tackle such a problem?
What are the solutions???? and who foots the bill?


Re: space junk.

Laser brooms look like the most workable solution right now (also reasonably cheap since they're ground based).

In my opinion the "who foots the bill" question is the main issue here - the rest is just a little bit of engineering. I doubt the parties responsible for the debris will pay up - especially major producers like China.


Re: space junk.

This belongs in Space Business and Technology. I'll move it there now, then merge it with one of the existing discussions.


Re: space junk.

Is there a possibility of putting a smaller version in space? Presumably there's junk rather close to the keepers you DON'T want to shoot out of the sky, and I would think a ground-based laser would be a bit too far for miscalculations to not matter.


Re: space junk.

It's possible, there are two obstacles though.

You'd need a strong laser (although much weaker than the ground based broom would use - you don't need to punch through miles and miles of air), and that needs power. Solvable by mounting it on a large spacecraft, like the ISS, which has plenty of power and/or plenty of space to put capacitors.

The second obstacle are hippies who aren't gonna let you put laser weapons into orbit. That's the real issue.

There might also be some minor risks with the angle of the beam - instead of shooting into deep space (straight up... ish) an orbital broom would fire more or less in a tangential plane, somewhat increasing the risks of hitting a legit orbiting spacecraft (the volume of orbital space is larger). Solvable with decent planning.


Re: space junk.

what about the possibility of some sort of craft mounted mapping system dedicated to the purpose of tracking and mapping orbital junk? admittedly it does not solve the problem but would provide valuable information both for craft safety and future solutions. it could also be used to monitor and assign future debris id by specific agency ensuring the cost is met fairly.


Re: space junk.

There is exactly such a mission being launched soon.

Check out the thread in Missions and Launches:


"Launch window: 04:41-04:55 GMT (12:41-12:55 am EDT)
Launch site: SLC-8, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

The Air Force Minotaur 4 rocket will launch the first satellite of the Space-Based Surveillance System. SBSS will join a network of ground sensors that track satellites in orbit around Earth. The launch will be the second flight of the Minotaur 4 rocket, which is partially comprised of retired Peacekeeper motors. "

If posting in that forum (Missions and Launches), please stick to the specifics of that launch and spacecraft. For the broader subject of space junk, that discussion belongs here in Space Business and Technology.


Moderator Meteor Wayne


SDC : Orbital Debris Threatens Peaceful Use of Space, Group Tells U.N.
By Zoe Macintosh Staff Writer

posted: 13 July 2010, 06:15 pm ET

Dealing with space debris presents a thorny political issue that must be addressed, according to an international foundation's brief to the United Nations.

In an address to the U.N.'s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, the Secure World Foundation – a non-profit organization committed to space sustainability – emphasized the importance of developing a legal framework and protocol for cooperating to address this problem.

Yet tensions between countries about the best way to deal with space junk could make a solution difficult, experts say.

"In order to keep the ability to work in space, we need to reduce as much as possible the amount of debris that we put in orbit," Secure World Foundation Executive Director Ray Williamson told "The reason for that is that as we go to much higher-than-Earth altitudes, the debris tends to stay in space for many years. And if you go to 1,000 km [600 miles], when you get to those altitudes, debris in space stays for centuries."


Nelson Bill actually specifically addresses this on page 88:

(a) FINDINGS.—Congress makes the following findings:
(1) A national and international effort is needed to develop a coordinated approach towards the prevention, negation, and removal of orbital debris.
(2) The guidelines issued by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee provide a consensus understanding of 10 national space agencies (including NASA) plus the European Space Agency on the necessity of mitigating the creation of space debris and measures for doing so. NASA’s participation on the Committee should be robust, and NASA should urge other space-relevant Federal agencies (including the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce) to work to ensure that their counterpart agencies in foreign governments are aware of these national commitments and the importance in which the United States holds them. Rockefeller1.pdf
Much more, but too much to post...


SDC : Huge Satellite Poses 150-Year Threat of Space Debris
By Peter B. de Selding
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 26 July 2010
05:21 pm ET

BREMEN, Germany - In three years, the European Space Agency will become the owner of what is possibly the most dangerous piece of space debris circling the Earth for the next 150 years: the 17,636-pound Envisat Earth observation satellite.

The space agency will take control of the Envisat satellite, which has been extended to 2013 and appears to set records wherever it goes.

Launched in 2002, Envisat was the biggest non-military Earth observation satellite ever built. At $2.9 billion in today's dollars, it is one of the most expensive. Its mission is viewed as a success by its users, all the more so insofar as the original five-year mission has been stretched to 11 years.
Old news :

SDC : Zombie Satellite Forces More Evasive Maneuvers for Other Craft
By Peter B. de Selding
Space News
posted: 20 July 2010
05:20 pm ET

PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Intelsat has successfully negotiated the passage of its out-of-control Galaxy 15 satellite across the path of its Galaxy 13 spacecraft with no signal interruption for Galaxy 13 customers in the second of what likely will be at least four such maneuvers before the so-called "zombie satellite" shuts down on its own in August, Intelsat said.

Galaxy 15, which earned the nickname "zombie satellite" after it stopped responding to commands in April, has since been drifting eastward along the geostationary arc 36,000 kilometers above the equator. Industry officials say it is the first time an uncontrolled satellite has remained electronically active, with its transponders still looking for signals to rebroadcast even as it strays far from its assigned orbital position.

Galaxy 15 traveled through the orbital slot of Luxembourg-based SES's AMC-11 satellite in mid-May. That event caused no service disruptions as Intelsat and SES took measures that included routing some AMC-11 traffic through a 19-meter-diameter antenna at Intelsat's Clarksburg, Md., teleport.


Guest : Space junk: Earth's forgotten environmental disaster
By business editor Peter Ryan

Updated Tue Sep 14, 2010 6:51pm AEST

Concerns about global warming have focused attention on the problems facing our planet, but there are also signs of environmental trouble in space.

Hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk are orbiting the Earth, and even the tiniest particles can be dangerous and even deadly to astronauts.

So far scientists have tracked only a fraction of the space junk in orbit, but an Australian space research company is developing laser technology to tackle the problem.

Electro Optic Systems chief executive Dr Ben Greene says most of the junk is from broken satellites.

"There's a lot of junk that's the result of broken satellites - satellites that have been impacted by debris - rocket casings, spent missions, satellites that have expired by running out of fuel or running out of power," he said.

"Altogether there are about 200,000 pieces of junk in [the] lower Earth orbit that are of significant concern to satellite operators."

Dr Greene says all space junk can cause "tremendous damage".
And it is a global issue, Dr Greene says, with the United States, China, India, France all having space programs.

"Collectively, these space-faring nations have about $600 billion invested in satellites. So it's a $600 billion problem," he said.
Dr Greene says if the international community does not tackle the space debris problem within the next five years it will get out of hand.

"We will lose access to big parts of space, and our ability to function as a modern society will be degraded," he said.

"The sea surface topography missions that are run, the polar icecap measurements that are done; all of these are done from space.

"All the precision measurements that provide the key metrics for global warming and monitoring of global warming to determine to what extent it's real, how fast it's moving, all these come from space assets. So, you can't separate one from the other."

However, Dr Greene says space junk has not become a political issue, yet.

"The political will is accumulating and it will reach the critical mass where something gets done when the problem can't be ignored anymore. And we're getting closer and closer to that," he said.

"Once we start losing a satellite a month, then it may be too late of course. So we're hoping, we're agitating for action before that happens."


Guest : Galaxy 15 'zombiesat' still alive after expected off date

Posted: September 15, 2010

Intelsat says its out-of-control Galaxy 15 communications satellite did not power down as expected in late August and will continue threatening interference with broadcasting signals from other spacecraft for the foreseeable future.

File photo of Galaxy 15 before launch in 2005. Credit: Orbital Sciences

There is no threat of the satellite colliding with another craft.

The reaction wheels control the satellite's orientation in space, and engineers expected Galaxy 15 would lose its lock on the sun and drain its batteries when the reaction wheels failed.

But Intelsat officials say the "off-point" did not occur, and now Galaxy 15 is in an eclipse season where the Earth blocks sunlight from reaching the solar panels for a few minutes each day.

Intelsat does not expect Galaxy 15 to turn itself off during the eclipse season, based on how momentum builds up on the satellite, according to Dianne VanBeber, the company's vice president of investor relations and communications.

Galaxy 15 will exit the annual fall eclipse season in early October.
Because it continues to be powered, Galaxy 15 will fly near another communications satellite while uncontrollably transmitting powerful C-band signals.
When Galaxy 15 does power itself down, officials say there is a small chance they could reboot the satellite and recover its functionality.


Is there an international law that forbis the deliberate creation of extra debris? Like China's anti satellite test?


How would you enforce it?
Who collects the penalties?

What, we have a little problem with 2 of our sats and you want us to pay you money???


The UN I'm assuming. Creating extra debris up there is a hazard for human spaceflight.
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