back to article Swiss space-cleaning bot grabs flying junk, hurls itself into furnace

The US and Russia may be working on Mars missions, but the galactic ambitions of the Swiss are far more modest: they want to tidy up the Earth's atmosphere. The clock-and-choc-making country today announced plans for a rubbish-grabbing space bot. Swiss Janitor Satellite, credit EPFL The tiny 30cm-long (11.8-inch) CleanSpace …


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  1. Roger Greenwood
    Thumb Up

    Two things

    1. Who is paying for thousands of these Hoovers?

    2. Why did we not launch our own "Dyson"? (c) (r)

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: Two things

      You want to launch a Dyson? Wow. I'm not sure we're ready for that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Two things

      You want to launch James Dyson into space? (sans spaceship) I'll pay to watch that! :)

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Two things


  2. Jediben

    Who cleans the cleaners?

    Am I right to assume that whatever propulsion system used to get the tiny cleaning machine into orbit will then need its own cleaning machine sent up to clear it away... which will need another... and another...

    1. Ru


      I'm sure all those actual swiss rocket scientists hadn't thought of that. You should send them a letter at once, warning them of their colossal folly before it is too late!

      Or y'know, think about it for maybe 5-10 seconds.

      Responsibly launched and correctly functiong sattelites will have their own disposal mechanisms already. A rocket designed for launching space-junk cleaners certainly will.

      But lets not even worry about technical details. Instead think about why a single launcher couldn't carry more than one cleaning device. You muppet.

    2. David 164

      Re: Who cleans the cleaners?

      They could use the Vega rocket which is design to minimise the amount of debris that ends up in orbit.

  3. JetSetJim

    nearly 7 million quid to tidy up *one* piece of space junk?

    Something iffy in that - as the article notes, NASA are tracking 16,000+ bits of junk that are >10cm? Perhaps a better solution could be investigated (after all, it *is* rocket science). Perhaps useful for the really large bits that are difficult to catch, but the teeny-tiny stuff needs hoovering up (metaphorically, I suspect a vacuum cleaner approach may have a few flaws in space)

    1. Trygve Henriksen

      That's for the FIRST robot.

      As soon as it has been tested and hopefully, proven to work, they can fine-tune the design, mass produce them and hopefully use available capacity in other launches.

    2. Greg J Preece

      Re: nearly 7 million quid to tidy up *one* piece of space junk?

      If they're only 30cm long, I imagine the plan is to send up lots of them at once. Get the prototype working, then chuck a few dozen into a single rocket and hit go.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: nearly 7 million quid to tidy up *one* piece of space junk?

      A vacuum cleaner works, it just as a very different meaning, as in cleaning the vacuum, instead of using a vacuum to clean.

      Anonymous, because I want to avoid the backlash for the bad pun

  4. Dr Insanity

    What about organic trash collectors... aka


    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: What about organic trash collectors... aka

      Na, that won't save your bacon..

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Passive version

    Why not some kind of satellite with blu-tac / gel over it? Put it into orbit for a year or two, perhaps changing orbits now and then and let all the micro particles stick to it. Once it's full, then it can do the death plunge.

    1. MyHeadIsSpinning
      Thumb Up

      Re: Passive version

      I agree, some sort of sticky gel-sphere is the way to go, if not a floating electro-magnet.

      1. FredScummer

        An electro-magnet might be a good idea, but would require that the space junk to be cleared contained ferrous metals (in layman's language, iron). Ordinarily because such metals would tend to be heavy to lift into space I would think that space junk would tend to be made of non-ferrous materials such as aluminium and carbon fibre.

        Personally I'd fire up an object which when it got near to a piece of space junk it spat out a spiders web of something gooey, or maybe splat the junk with a goo-ball with a weight which gravity could act upon, so as to degrade the orbit of the junk, so that the junk did a graceful swan-dive into the earths atmosphere.

        Alternatively, see if the dolly-the-sheep people could do a job with Ronald Raygun, ressurect the star wars armenents from the 80's, and have some fun with a live asteroids game. Practice on some bunkers in Iran until you got your sights properly aimed.

    2. David Barrett

      Re: Passive version

      Not sure how passive it could be, its still going to have to detect and chase stuff to match speed etc, I doubt a big ball of blu-tack will do much when a space bolt hits it a 2km/s.

    3. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: Passive version

      Is this in the same way that we could send cleaners with sticky dusting cloths into warzones to catch the bullets flying through the air to protect the soldiers?

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    The Swiss way of ruling Space

    Forget about freakin' lasers, they'll just drag your valuable stuff down!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The big parts are not the problem, but rather the little ones which are difficult to detect and which number the tens of thousands.

    Also, I doubt it really is a problem, as the number of satellites hit are pretty small. Also, the alleged collision of those two sats two years ago did never happen. Space is indeed - spacy. There is very little chance a sat will hit these objects because of the huuuge volume that boxes a satellite orbit.

    1. mr.K

      Re: Useless

      Little ones can easily be created by smashing big bits together or ramming big bits with small bits. So the big ones are a big issue. I recon the big fear is a cascade effect and big pieces would be vital for that to happen. Kind of like nuclear material reaching critical mass, or rather super-critical.

  9. Michael Kean


    1. Chemist

      Re: magnets

      Is much space debris ferromagnetic ?

  10. Peter Ford

    How about some kind of net - maybe a four-piece satellite that is deployed spinning so it opens out and stretches a net between the pieces.

    Let it drift through orbit for a while, catching little bits of junk, and gradually the momentum of all the bits slows it until it makes the death plunge (perhaps a set of small retro-thrusters could hasten it's demise...).

    The net would have to be pretty strong - carbon fibre or perhaps just kevlar - to catch things rather than being punctured by them

    1. Paul_Murphy

      Orbital speeds are very high, so while a net might seem to be a good idea I doubt in practice one could be made strong enough to absorb the impact of something(s) travelling at high speed - even relative to something that has just got to orbit itself.

      Shooting a laser at the target might work if the surface ablates enough to provide some reaction.

      Also orbiting a large mass to disrupt the orbits of other objects (hopefully the stuff we still want up there can have their orbits corrected) might be worth investigating.

      1. thalass

        Orbital speeds are high, but the flying net would be orbiting at the same kind of velocity. So it should be a relatively gentle catch. Unless you launched it in the opposite direction to everything else...

        This is going to sound stupid, but the extent of my orbital mechanics training is playing Kerbal Space Program. Could a net like this be flown into a slightly elliptical orbit, so that at apogee it's velocity is slightly less than the debris in circular orbits at that altitude. Then at perigee it's velocity would be slightly higher than objects orbiting at that level. If the net/gauze was adhesive enough it could accumulate debris over time. Eventually it could be brought back to earth for re-entry, or with it's large area it would probably come down on it's own.

        Of course it would have to stay up for years, and be a couple of kilometres across, and would have to be rigid enough that it wouldn't fold in on itself every time something hits it. Probably not practical yet, if at all.

        Also: At 30cm long, are these things based on the cubesat? Cubesat kits are supposed to be relatively cheap.

    2. Crisp

      Rather than a net

      What about a great big chunk of aerogel? It could act as a kind of sponge to pick up all the little bits of space debris.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Rather than a net

        Rocket coated in Toblerone.

  11. tmTM

    Why Not

    Grapple the space junk, then bolt a little rocket to it and point it towards earth.

    That way the space janitor doesn't have to perish in a fiery death every time it takes out the trash.

    1. Paul_Murphy


      What about having a small rail gun on board.

      Grapple target, turn it towards earth, or back along it's orbital path, then fire the rail gun.

      The impact would slow the target down enough to de-orbit (at some point), and the cleaner-sat can use the momentum gain to send itself to the next target.

      Would be a great game.... (tm)


      1. mark 63 Silver badge

        Re: or

        where would it get the power to fire the rail gun each time?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. NogginTheNog

          Re: Re: or

          ...and won't it just shoot ITSELF backwards at stupid-speed when it fires??

          1. Charles 9

            That was the idea.

            It would be firing BACKWARDS. Meaning it would fire the junk backwards, slowing it down potentially to the point of de-orbit. Meanwhile, the reaction from the firing would work propel it FORWARD.

            That being said, I don't think you could collect enough juice to fire the junk properly on pure energy. You'd need something close to the MJ range, which solar collection wouldn't provide in a timely manner.

            Going back to the idea of a net, understood that most materials have trouble with high-speed impacts, but what about several somewhat loose layers of kevlar with a little bit of give in them so as to help absorb some of the kinetic energy? Besides vests, some shooting ranges use kevlar for shooting range backstop curtains, so there is some history to using it like a net for small objects at speed.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: That was the idea.

              .and then there's all those high velocity, designed to destroy, projectiles which miss or go through the target after the first one or two hit, to clean up afterwards.

  12. Lloyd

    Does anyone else remember the Tomorrows World

    that had a solution for space junk? The were going to send up what was effectively a tambourine, I can't remember the ins and outs of it but it seemed quite sensible at the time.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. starskythehutch

      Re: "systems from GPS to TV rely on satellites"


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "systems from GPS to TV rely on satellites"

      Junk is a problem in geostationary orbit. So far no collisions have occurred, but that has been through foresight.

      Gravitational perturbations from the Sun and Moon mean that satellites don't remain on station. All geosynchronous satellites require regular 'station keeping' burns to keep them more or less in place. After they have been abandoned they can wander significantly away from where we thought they are and since comms sats are clustered over the most advantageous positions, that is a serious risk. Operators are now required to demonstrate that their satellites can be fired into a graveyard orbit a few hundred km further away from Earth at the end of their lives.

  14. John Sager

    A re-usable one would be good

    Navigate to junk. Grab. Apply delta-V to deorbit. Ungrab and reverse delta-V (quickly!). Rinse & repeat. It would need lots of fuel though, or a Tesco filling station in orbit. It's probably only practical for LEO objects though. As for getting it up there cleanly, booster stages should be designed to deorbit themselves.

    1. Richard Ball

      Re: A re-usable one would be good

      What it needs is some sort of gun mechanism to put the delta-v into just the junk, not itself.

      I think develop something like a big duvet, spinning, and with inbuilt stiffeners and dampers to keep it in the right shape while it fills up with space-crap and can be deorbited / tracked / boosted / maintained / forgotten about / hidden behind.

      1. Is it me?

        Newton's 3rd Law of Motion

        Would make it very difficult to do that, the best you could hope for is that the process increases the orbit of the device, whilst degrading the orbit of the target. Even for a missile, you still need to push the projectile away from the launch vehicle, before it fires.

        Oh, and aren't missiles and guns banned in space. I should think the satellite owning countries might be a bit twitchy about the Swiss putting, what are in effect, hunter killer satellites into orbit.

        But if someone was going to do it, to tidy up, you would want it to be the Swiss, so lets hope they get the security right, you wouldn't want the these satellites hijacked by anybody.

  15. Code Monkey

    They're doing it wrong

    We need to get some Wombles in space suits.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: They're doing it wrong

      I thought about trying to translate that for my fellow Yanks, but I think the cultural barrier is a trifle high when it comes to The Wombles :-)

      I never recommend Wiki for anything, but I suspect that it has a fairly decent overview of the subject. I can't be arsed to look.

  16. trashbat


    I will contribute £5 to this project if they can bring it all down on Michael Bay's house at sunset.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ok..who else is thinking Spaceballs

    We need MegaMaid!

  18. Wize

    Wouldnt it be better to copy the fishermen

    And use a big trawler net to catch more crap in one go?

    I'm guessing this one is for the big chunks and not for all the loose bolts and screwdrivers that are hanging about.

    1. Charles 9

      Trick with the nets.

      The objects being considered are traveling AT SPEED, more like a Marlin dashing through the ocean at 30kph or something like that. The point is, when something that fast hits your supposed trawling net, it has a distinct chance of having enough kinetic energy and inertia to punch through.

      For the net to work, you'd need something designed to catch those kinds of objects. Which is why I thought a while back on several loose layers of kevlar: an idea which is already being used on the ground for shooting range backstop curtains (where they experience the kinds of projectiles they would encounter in space--small objects at speed). Kevlar mesh is designed to absorb kinetic energy, so that helps. Keeping them loose (or perhaps using a more-flexible armature) allows them to give and absorb more energy, and using layers means that even if it manages to penetrate one or two layers, each penetration knocks out more energy that may allow it to be caught by the next layer.

  19. Mike Flex

    Ha, a _vacuum_ cleaner.

    The post is required, and must contain nuts.

  20. taxman

    Driven by TV

    Small red coloured unit run by a hologram and a cat?

  21. Doug 14

    Sounded great until ....

    I started this article picturing some roaming satellite grabbing junk with its claw before throwing it into the atmosphere with contempt , which would have kind of cool. As it is .... meh !

  22. Neil Hoskins

    Chocs and clocks?

    OK, I know you're just making a little joke, but this perception of the Swiss has annoyed me ever since I visited one of their machine-tool companies in the eighties. For years I had to listen to Thatcherites saying that we could base an economy on financial services, "like the Swiss", knowing it to be utter bullshit.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Chocs and clocks?

      On the other hand, this story adds nicely to the cliché about the Swiss being extremely fastidious about things being clean and orderly :)

      1. Kugutsu

        Re: Re: Chocs and clocks?

        this is a very true cliche - they even wash the streets here every morning. I am not at all surprised that they have come up with a satellite to do the same thing in orbit!

        On a pedantic note, is it from the University of Lausanne, or EPFL? The two are separate entities...

        1. Chemist

          Re: Re: Re: Chocs and clocks?

          I once saw a small child drop an ice-cream on self & pavement in Saas-Fee. The shopkeeper was out almost before the ice-cream hit the floor. The child and pavement were spotless within

          a minute.

  23. Faye Berdache

    Reverse Thrust!

    Surely the best way to tidy up debris without destroying the craft is to use good old newtonian physics. Turn the craft (and attached debris) round to face the opposite way to the trajectory and eject the debris 'backwards'. This will both slow the debris (sending it into a decaying orbit) and slightly speed up the hoover-ship, helping it on its way to the next piece of scrap. A simple spring mechanism should suffice, with a little motor to wind the spring back in again ready for the next mission.

    1. VeganVegan

      Re: Reverse Thrust!

      I am not very sure of this, but I believe that slowing down an orbiting object actually raises its orbit. For example, low Earth orbit satellites whiz around the Earth several times a day, while those way up higher can be geostationary. What you need to do is the opposite of what you propose: speed up the junk, to lower its orbit.

      1. Figgus

        Re: Re: Reverse Thrust!

        Untrue. The stuff father up would be moving much faster to accomplish the same number of orbits. In the same orbit, loss of speed means the orbit decays because centrifugal force would diminish.

        1. mr.K

          Re: Re: Re: Reverse Thrust!

          Erm, the further out the orbit is, the lower the speed, but the sum of potential and kinetic energy is higher. Any burst in any direction will throw any satellite into an elliptic orbit, and then the math gets complicated.

          So, yes, you need energy to reach a higher orbit and yes the velocity will be lower there, and of course the angular velocity will be even lower since the length of the orbit is increased in addition to the lower velocity.

          To the original poster. A decaying orbit will only be achieved when there is a drag at some point, just lowering the speed won't accomplish anything since once in has fallen down a bit it will gain it back and then some. A drag can be accomplished if the elliptic orbit goes through the atmosphere. Shooting the debris "backwards" with a spring won't even make a dent on the velocity.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Re: Reverse Thrust!

        Are you confusing actual speed with speed relative to a fixed point on Earth?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Toastan Buttar


    The first thought to cross my mind was WALL-E.

  25. TRT Silver badge

    It looks like a SPS rocket of some sort. Like the limpet rockets used in debris destruction.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    simply attach a large sail to each, so that drag affects the junk quicker?

  27. Shonko Kid

    _Will_ be inspired?!?

    Umm, we're sure that an example we can copy must exist somewhere in nature, but we haven't found it yet?

  28. jungle_jim


    send something up there to target whatever you can hit with a frikken LASER

    1. FredScummer

      Re: or...

      Warning: Space weaponry being deployed. Alert responsible space agencies that someone is breaking the terms of the space treaty.

  29. cosymart

    Great Game

    What we need is some satellites fitted with lots of lasers and these lasers are controlled and aimed by anyone who coughs up the dosh. Points could be awarded for the most rubbish hit and a small refund given. Points would have to be deducted for shooting down something important like a comms satellite etc.

    Great fun and it would have people queuing up to have a go. Make a fortune :-)

  30. jonathan keith
    Paris Hilton

    Reg Special Projects Bureau

    I suggest that the El Reg Gentlemen Amateurs solve this over tea and pipe tobacco in their shed following LOHAN's glorious success.

  31. Gordon 8

    One for SPB

    When LOHAN has been successfully launched, Let's see if the SPB can work out a way to collect and return to earth a piece of space junk

  32. Gordon 8

    @ Jonathan Keith

    Damn, beat me to it....

    Have a beer

  33. Ged T

    Is there a contamination risk?

    How much space junk, of all types, will it take before damaging the atmosphere? Does anyone know?

    Can these proposed "de-orbiting" devices determine the composition of a piece of junk, to selectively avoid those objects that it might be better to leave up there?

    Given the proposed level of expenditure, would it be possible to recover these materials back to terra firma rather than looking to burn/melt/atomise them in the atmosphere?

    1. Comments are attributed to your handle

      Re: Is there a contamination risk?

      No, what would make you think there would be?

    2. mr.K

      Re: Is there a contamination risk?

      Is there a contamination risk? -No.

      How much junk can it take? -One piece, as stated in the article

      Can they determine the composition of a piece of junk? -No, but since it probably will go for the larger pieces I would think that asking the manufacturer is easier. As for the objects better left up there I have no idea what that would be. Are you thinking of the sun or something like that?

      Would it be possible to recover these materials? -Yes, but I think, I am not sure, that it is more expensive to recover things in space than to get it back, and it is at least way more expensive than the junk is worth. It is after all junk. The bots themselves are worth more, not to mention the putting them up there.

  34. wiggers

    "they want to tidy up the Earth's atmosphere"

    Just how many satellites are there in the Earth's atmosphere?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Not That Andrew

      Re: "they want to tidy up the Earth's atmosphere"

      Almost all of them. Most satellites are in Low Earth Orbit in the (lower) Exosphere (some are in the Thermosphere). LEO is where almost all of the junk is as well. Then there are the satellites in Medium Earth orbit which is still in the Exosphere, as far as I know . Don't think High Earth Orbit is, though, but there are very few up there.

      1. wiggers

        Re: Re: "they want to tidy up the Earth's atmosphere"

        If there was enough of an atmosphere to slow stuff down then there would be no need for the Swiss de-orbiter. The stuff they're targeting is too high for the atmospheric drag effects to be useful.

  35. Crisp

    Rather than toss it to Earth

    Why not collect the larger pieces for raw materials?

  36. Stevie


    Maybe not blu-tak but we've been using foam-based coatings to protect space-stuff from high-speed micrometeorite impacts for decades so why not have a satellite with a large umbrella coated with the same stuff just fly in circles until it has swept out a clean area? Bigger stuff can be dealt with using different techniques.

  37. Giddy Kipper

    Aren't there valuable metals up there?

    'Cos I seem to remember the Swiss doing this before. About 70 years ago. Bits of gold wasn't it ...

    1. Ryan 7

      Re: Aren't there valuable metals up there?

      I'm pretty sure that the only thing in orbit in 1942 was the Moon.

  38. Graham Bartlett

    Borg attack?

    I'm a bit worried that these guys seem to be taking on a Borg cube, according to the pic. Is there something that NASA should be telling us...?

  39. Anonymous Coward

    Eh, i'm not sure that $10 million a shot is worth it....

    When those Swiss space vacs will probably just return with a bunch of unmatched socks.....

  40. chris lively

    It's simple

    Use a gigantic magnet made of a flexibile material similar in deployment to a large solar sail.

    Powered by a small nuclear reactor.

    The "sail" material would need to be able to reverse polarity in order to prevent a high speed collision. This would also be used to eject the material back towards the earth once captured.

    Heck it might. It not even have to actually capture the junk. Just slow it down enough that gravity would take it over, or a simple course correction.

  41. Johnny Canuck

    Excuse me, but I own the patent for "robotic janitorial self-immolating satellites". The Swiss government will immediately cease the unlicensed usage of the aforementioned robotic janitorial self-immolating satellites forthwith.

  42. shawnfromnh

    One time seems like a huge waste of everything from the collector itself to the fuel to get it into orbit.

    Maybe more of a trash bin than a suicide satellite would be better. Also make it so it can throw the waste downwards when it gets to a place in orbit where the waste will hit an ocean area that is not usually busy with fishing ships, freighters, or such.

    Basically pick up the stuff and toss it into the ocean. Sure would lower the mission cost substantially.

  43. Terry H

    Oh Dear

    This is a really disturbing plan, and it's not even April 1. On the surface it seems to be in the running for "stupidest thing I've ever heard in my whole life".

    This sort of thing has been studied for decades by groups with resources that completely eclipse the entire Swiss GDP. Of course they never really said THEY were paying for it.

    The kinetic energies involved far exceed fly paper, and a large percentage of the stuff is probably non-ferrous. So their grabber thing might solve those problems. Of course the far more likely scenario is that the debris will puncture their toy and turn it into more space junk.

    I read once that if there were 24ct gold bars sitting on the surface of the moon we couldn't afford to go get them. I think that would be downright profitable compared to this farce. At least they didn't say they were going to drive around and collect more than one piece. Changing orbit is the single most extravagant thing you can do. So at least it qualifies as bad science fiction instead of stupid science fantasy.

    Maybe their next version will have Fairies on Unicorns packin' Disruptors. They can call it their FUD program.

    1. mr.K
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Oh Dear

      That was my icky feeling also when I read about it, but when you look past the sales pitch and press release packages it might not be that bad of an idea. Isn't it essential an attempt to make an off the shelf defunct satellite deorbiter? Nothing else than a small booster and a simple grabber. The grabber won't need to be strong as long as you manage to match the speed first and the booster doesn't have to stronger than to gently push it out of orbit with a few Newtons of thrust.

      Btw, there is no claim that this has to be profitable, or at least not in that sense. If those gold bars on the moon your were talking about somehow prevented us from having any satellites in orbit I bet we would contemplate moving them.

    2. Chemist

      "resources that completely eclipse the entire Swiss GDP."

      That would be ~$500 billion/year compared to NASA at ~$19 billion/year

  44. Ascy

    What a waste!

    Apologies if anyone's already posted this, but in the time it took me to read the article I came up with a better idea - which begs the question how do these idiots get funding! Why not just float beside the piece of space debris and then ram it like a snooker ball, knocking it off course down to Earth, while leaving your DustStar (TM) free to target further junk until it's supply of compressed gas (or whatever for thrusters) runs out? You could attach something to the ramming side to make it so it didn't even have to be that accurate (like a bowl). If you need to control it around obstacles, just set up a few relay points. Or use the Hubble Telescope to focus sunshine and turn up bits that way.

    There's so many other things you could do too, harness the kinetic energy of the debris, while sending the debris itself down on a slow path to Earth. Use the debris as a fuel source depending on what it is...anything, do anything but this crap idea!

    1. Not That Andrew

      Re: What a waste!

      Because ramming the space debris is likely to leave a huge cloud of debris.

  45. pealla

    Whatever it is doesn't have to stop the junk, just slow it down enough to deorbit. A big net held in the corners by some ion thruster satellites, let tidal forces stretch it out ... vertically anyway. Spider silk is weight for weight pretty damn strong and stretchy and if we can breed up some space spiders it'll be self healing. Just need some space flies to keep em alive...

  46. Surreal

    The obvious solution.

    I can't believe the nobody has mentioned this, since we've known about it since stardate 5693.2. Just use a Tholian web. Duh, people!

  47. mfritz0

    Why not a ground based laser system using an orbiting tracking satellite to pinpoint the really small items to be disintegrated from the ground?

  48. Dave Bell

    There's a first time for everything

    This looks pretty cheap, as satellites go, and is going to be doing something rather difficult. The Swiss are developing something that will do an orbital rendezvous and docking with an un-instrumented target, and I bet everyone planning ISS robot cargo missions will be interested in the results. And for a first mission, a successful grab and de-orbit will be pretty good going. Then you can start to think about more complicated solutions, which would allow the sweeper satellite to stay in orbit and hunt down something else.

    In the longer term, we're getting into space-tug territory. The control systems have a lot of applications.

  49. Marco van Beek

    Cash for scrap?

    Can't we just send up a white Transit up there? Blink of an eye and the local scrapyard will be £50 lighter, and space will be a ton cleaner!

    Seriously though, given the amount of money it takes to send stuff into space, surely it would be a better plan to re-use everything we can up there. Remember the old days of insurance companies having their own fire brigades? (not literally, but you know what I mean). Maybe someone should put a plan together for a small orbiting scrapyard, paid for by the satellites' insurance companies, that has sufficient manoeuvrability to change orbit and some sort of capture device to reel the debris in. If you could stick a small steerable rocket on the end of a long wire, with a grapple / net / magnet / sticky gum on the end, you could send it out and pull it all back in again. Weight isn't really much of an issue once you are up there, so it could be miles long. All you need is enough strength to get over the inertia, and if the item is only 10Kg, you could do that with a bit of wet string.

    Once you have retrieved a bit of scrap, a grapple arm puts it in the appropriate bin, and you repeat the process with a new or refuelled rocket. The smaller the thing that needs to move, the less fuel you need, and winches can be electric, powered by solar panels and batteries.

    Right. All we need know before we hand it over to Special Projects is a name... How about DEL BOY: Debris Engaging Lasso Based On (scrap)Yard.

    After all that thinking I need a pint.

  50. micheal

    It's was done in the 80's

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