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Australia Developing Lasers to Track, Destroy Space Junk

But space debris does not have to be big to cause damage. A floating fleck of paint is thought to have cracked a window on the International Space Station

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A meteor streaks across the sky in the early morning as people watching during the Perseid meteor shower in Ramon Carter near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower is sparked every August when the Earth passes through a stream of space debris left by comet Swift-Tuttle. VOA
A meteor streaks across the sky in the early morning as people watching during the Perseid meteor shower in Ramon Carter near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 13, 2015. The Perseid meteor shower is sparked every August when the Earth passes through a stream of space debris left by comet Swift-Tuttle. VOA
  • Australian scientists are developing new kinds of lasers
  • These lasers will be used to destroy space junk
  • There is an estimated 7500 tons of junk in space

Australian scientists say a powerful ground-based laser targeting space junk will be ready for use next year. They say there are hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris circling the Earth that have the potential to damage or destroy satellites.

Reducing the amount of space junk in orbit has been the focus of a meeting of scientists this week in Canberra organized by Australia’s Space Environment Research Center.

Telescope can view stars at ultraviolet wavelengths unhindered. Wikimedia Commons
There is 7500 tons of junk in space. Wikimedia Commons

The meeting has heard that a laser using energy from light radiation to move discarded objects in space could be ready for use within a year. Researchers in Australia believe the technology would be able to change the path of orbital junk to prevent collisions with satellites. The aim is to eventually build more powerful laser beams that could push debris into the Earth’s atmosphere, where it would burn up. Professor Craig Smith, head of EOS Space Systems, the Australian company that is developing the junk-busting devices, explained how it would work.

Also Read: NASA’s Juno spacecraft detects “Monster” Cyclones on Jupiter’s Surface

“We track objects and predict collisions to high accuracy and if we think a space debris object is going to have a collision with another space debris object then we can use our laser to change its orbits rather than crashing into a satellite or another space debris object causing more space debris. Again as we ramp up the power to bigger and bigger lasers then, yes, you can actually start moving it enough to what we call de-orbit the satellite by reducing its velocity enough that it starts to change orbit height and eventually hits the atmosphere and the atmosphere takes over and drags it,” Smith said.

The system, which would operate through a telescope near the Australian capital, Canberra, is expected to be finished early next year. It is estimated there are 7,500 tons of trash in space. This includes an estimated half-a-million marble-sized pieces of junk, while other items, such as discarded rockets and disused parts of space crafts, are much larger.

Cosmic rays
The lasers will be used to destroy space junk. Pixabay

In 2012, the eight-ton Envisat Earth Observation satellite unexpectedly shut-down in orbit, where it remains. The size of a school bus, the satellite is one of the largest pieces of ‘junk’ in orbit and could become a catastrophic hazard if struck by other space debris and broken into fragments.

But space debris does not have to be big to cause damage. A floating fleck of paint is thought to have cracked a window on the International Space Station. In Europe, large nets and harpoons are being developed to catch debris encircling our planet. VOA

  • Monty

    And we want to colonise the rest of the universe. We can’t even keep our own planet in shape. What makes anyone think that man will be any different on Mars or elsewhere?

  • RickFromTexas

    Extremely bad idea, space junk is made of exotic metals and materials, where is what’s left after this junk is hit by lasers going to go? That’s right, gravity will attract it into the upper atmosphere where it will interact in unforeseen ways with what’s already there.

    It might wipe out the ozone layer or interact badly with cosmic rays and/or radiation and then the whole planet’s screwed, but the point is no one knows what will happen and it’s not likely to be good based on how we’ve affected the upper layers of the atmosphere in the past.

    • RickFromTexas

      And why is our first thought to destroy or blow up space junk, why don’t we just harvest it and recycle it? Ideas like this come from little men overcompensating for how nature shortchanged them in the manhood department. My laser’s bigger! I can just hear ’em now…

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  • Monty

    And we want to colonise the rest of the universe. We can’t even keep our own planet in shape. What makes anyone think that man will be any different on Mars or elsewhere?

  • RickFromTexas

    Extremely bad idea, space junk is made of exotic metals and materials, where is what’s left after this junk is hit by lasers going to go? That’s right, gravity will attract it into the upper atmosphere where it will interact in unforeseen ways with what’s already there.

    It might wipe out the ozone layer or interact badly with cosmic rays and/or radiation and then the whole planet’s screwed, but the point is no one knows what will happen and it’s not likely to be good based on how we’ve affected the upper layers of the atmosphere in the past.

    • RickFromTexas

      And why is our first thought to destroy or blow up space junk, why don’t we just harvest it and recycle it? Ideas like this come from little men overcompensating for how nature shortchanged them in the manhood department. My laser’s bigger! I can just hear ’em now…

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US to Work with Australia, Canada to Cut Reliance on Chinese Minerals

Over 80 percent of the global supply chain of rare earth elements is controlled by one country

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US, Australia, Canada
FILE - Samples of rare earth minerals (L-R): Cerium oxide, Bastnasite, Neodymium oxide and Lanthanum carbonate are on display during a tour of Molycorp's Mountain Pass Rare Earth facility in Mountain Pass, California. VOA

The United States will team up with Canada and Australia to help countries around the world develop their reserves of minerals like lithium, copper and cobalt, the State Department said on Tuesday, part of a multi-pronged strategy to reduce global reliance on China for materials crucial to high-tech industries.

Washington grew more concerned recently about its dependence on mineral imports after Beijing suggested using them as leverage in the trade war between the world’s largest economic powers.

This would interrupt the manufacture of a wide range of consumer, industrial and military goods, including mobile phones, electric vehicles, batteries, and fighter jets.

“Over 80 percent of the global supply chain of rare earth elements — is controlled by one country,” the State Department said in a fact sheet outlining the effort, which it has dubbed the Energy Resource Governance Initiative. “Reliance on any one source increases the risk of supply disruptions.”

US, Australia, Canada
The United States will team up with Canada and Australia to help countries around the world. VOA

Under the plan, the United States will share mining expertise with other countries to help them discover and develop their resources, and advise on management and governance frameworks to help ensure their industries are attractive to international investors.

Doing so will help to ensure global supply for the minerals can meet world demand, which is projected to surge alongside the growing take-up in high-technology goods. “Demand for critical energy minerals could increase almost 1,000% by 2050,” according to the fact sheet.

Frank Fannon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for energy resources, said in an interview that tensions with China show the United States should be producing more rare earth minerals and help others ensure a secure supply. “We need to do more and we are not alone in this,” Fannon said.

Canada and Australia, two major mining countries, were partnering in the effort and other allies could join later, a U.S. official said.

Also Read- In Hot Water? Warming Oceans may Reduce Sea Life by 17%,Says Study

Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, said Canadian officials have met with the State Department several times to discuss critical minerals and environmental issues around global mining and he looks forward to advancing the initiative.

Representatives of Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plan was first reported on Tuesday morning by the Financial Times.

The plan comes a week after the U.S. Commerce Department recommended urgent steps to boost U.S. domestic production of “critical minerals,” including by providing low-interest loans to mining companies and requiring defense companies to “buy American.”

US, Australia, Canada
Washington grew more concerned recently about its dependence on mineral imports. Pixabay

The Commerce report also recommended that U.S. agencies review areas that are currently protected from development and assess whether those restrictions should be lifted or reduced to allow for critical minerals development. (VOA)