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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
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  • 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

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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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  • 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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Parker Solar Probe Working As Planned: NASA Mission Controllers

Further instrument check-outs and deployments are scheduled in the coming days for the spacecraft.

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NASA
Several other designs on the spacecraft keep Parker Solar Probe sheltered from the heat. Flickr

NASA ‘s historic mission to solve the mysteries of the Sun which was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on August 12 is operating according to plan, mission controllers have said.

As of 12 p.m. EDT on August 16, the Parker Solar Probe was 4.6 million kms from Earth, travelling at 62,764 kms per hour, and heading toward its first Venus flyby scheduled for October 3, 2018, Geoff Brown of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, or APL, in Maryland, wrote in a NASA blog post on Friday.

The spacecraft will use Venus to slightly slow itself and adjust its trajectory for an optimal path toward the first perihelion of the Sun on November 5 this year.

“Parker Solar Probe is operating as designed, and we are progressing through our commissioning activities,” said Project Manager Andy Driesman of APL.

This solar probe is humanity’s first-ever mission into the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. Here it will directly explore solar processes that are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events that can impact life on Earth.

The mission has already achieved several planned milestones toward full commissioning and operations, according to the mission controllers.

NASA-Parker-Solar-Probe
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe in Space. (IANS)

On August 13, the high-gain antenna, which Parker Solar Probe uses to communicate high-rate science data to Earth, was released from locks which held it stable during launch.

Controllers have also been monitoring the spacecraft as it autonomously uses its thrusters to remove (or “dump”) momentum, which is part of the flight operations of the spacecraft.

Managing momentum helps the spacecraft remain in a stable and optimal flight profile.

There are four instrument suites on board Parker Solar Probe, which will each need to be powered and readied for science data collection.

The FIELDS investigation, which consists of the most elements, went first. It was powered up on August 13 for two activities, Brown said.

First was the opening of the clamps which held four of the five FIELDS antennas stowed during takeoff.

These antennas will be deployed roughly 30 days after launch, and they will stick out from the corners of the spacecraft’s heat shield called the Thermal Protection System and be exposed to the harsh solar environment.

Parker solar probe
The spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. IANS

Second, the spacecraft’s magnetometer boom was fully deployed. This boom contains three magnetometers and a fifth, smaller electric field antenna, all part of the FIELDS suite.

Also Read: India will Send a Manned Flight into Space by 2020: Modi

Further instrument check-outs and deployments are scheduled in the coming days for the spacecraft, Brown said. (IANS)