It’s strange, but it’s true. With Earth surrounded with dead satellites and other forms of space debris, and with this layer of outer-space garbage, if you can call it that, becoming thicker and thicker, scientists want to take out the trash with lasers.
An international group of scientists led by the Riken Research Institute in Japan have announced a rather grand plan to clear about 3,000 tons of space debris by means of a fiber optic laser located on the International Space Station. So how do these scientists plan to go about this? According to reports, their first plan is to leverage the Extreme Universe Space Observatory’s infrared telescope and use it for tracking space garbage that’s moving around at extremely high speeds. The next step is to use a fiber optic CAN laser – yes, the type used for particle accelerators – to fire at the trash to the point that it burns up during reentry. Together, this system could take out the trash in great detail, potentially blasting particles with diameters as small as one centimeter.
The group’s proposal is outlined in the journal Acta Astronautica, and it eventually hopes to install a proof-of-concept system aboard the ISS, making use of a 20-centimeter telescope and 100-strand laser. And if the Riken group’s plans do pan out, a full-scale version may be installed on the ISS. Team leader Toshikazu Ebisuzaki says that this will include a three-meter telescope and a 10,000-fiber laser, with the system capable of de-orbiting debris within 100 kilometers away. “Looking further to the future, we could create a free-flyer mission and put it into a polar orbit at an altitude near 800 kilometers, where the greatest concentration of debris is found,” he added.