16 January 2018
Space is mostly empty, but the space directly surrounding the Earth is increasingly crowded. Every satellite we launch into space eventually becomes another piece of debris orbiting the planet, and over time that debris piles up. The more debris there is, the higher the chance that a piece will hit a functioning satellite, damaging or destroying a multimillion-dollar investment.
Every space agency has a plan to get rid of space junk in the future. NASA is considering using jets of gas to slow down debris and cause it to deorbit. Europeís thinking about sending up a satellite with a giant net to snare the debris and bring it down. Japanís idea is to use an electric tether to do the same.
And now China has proposed a solution to the space debris problem: a giant laser that will break floating space junk into smaller and less harmful pieces. According to a paper published in the journal Optik by a group of researchers at the Air Force Engineering University in China, equipping a satellite with such a laser would be effective enough to clean up space, at least according to simulations.
The only way to find out for sure is to test it. While
no such mission has been scheduled yet, itís likely only a matter of time
before someone puts a laser on a satellite and launches it into space. Once
that happens, we might finally start to be rid of our space junk problem for
good. Or maybe it'll start
a Space War.