Monday, May 16, 2011

NASA Considers Lasers To Battle Space Junk

“Space junk” or debris has become an increasing threat to commercial satellites along with spacecraft and the International Space Station. Now NASA scientists may have a new option for reducing debris.

Collisions with debris, and the resulting damage, have the potential for being costly and difficult to repair.

During missions, astronauts aboard the International Space Station have had to take refuge in an escape capsule because they knew they were going to have a close encounter with space debris.

NASA scientists propose using a mid-power laser that could move the objects from their collision course. Unlike lasers that have been used in the past, this new laser would not be able to vaporize debris.

“Those lasers, when you shoot them all into space, are not capable of vaporizing or melting anything,” said scientist Creon Levit of the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. “What they are capable of doing is giving a gentle push to space debris.”

This gentle push could move a piece of space debris about 650 feet a day, enough to avoid a collision.

Levit said 33 years ago, a NASA astronomer predicted we would be in this situation. He said most of the space junk is from earlier space launches when no one was concerned about debris control.

Levit says it is now the exact opposite.

“Nowadays when you launch something into space,” says Levit. “You have to have a debris mitigation plan.” (read more)