The problem of #Space Debris has been something that has been discussed for decades, ever since someone noticed that everything humans have launched into low Earth orbit tends to stay there for a long time, even past their operational lives. Old satellites, rocket fairing, and even dropped tools and parts from space walks are flying around the Earth at thousands of miles an hour. Right now we occasionally have to move communications satellites or even the International Space Station to avoid getting hit. But, sooner than we think, the problem is going to become so dangerous that space debris will become a hazard to navigation in the heavens.

Building space faring garbage collectors

Bloomberg described a number of space garbage collectors being looked at that would start sweeping Earth orbit clear of space debris. The idea is that vehicles would ply about, attaching themselves to space junk, and either send it to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere or out to a stable “graveyard orbit” so that it can be safely out of the way. Another concept involves hitting space debris with a laser, not so much to vaporize it, but to heat one side to expend a portion as gas to propel it into the Earth’s atmosphere. Such concepts remain on the drawing board, and few if any are anywhere near to becoming hardware that can be launched and put to work.

Why aren’t we cleaning up our mess in space?

The problem with cleaning up space debris is the same as with clearing out a garage or decluttering a house.

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The job is going to be time consuming and expensive. So far, space junk is not an immediate problem so the natural reaction is to procrastinate. Unfortunately, we may not know that the problem has become urgent until some space asset gets taken out. Then it may be too late.

What about making clearing space junk pay?

But what if a way could be found to make cleaning the mess in space pay? Let us imagine if rather than crashing space junk into the atmosphere we found some way to recycle it. Then, the space-faring garbage collectors would collect the space junk and take it to an orbiting recycling plant. Robots could separate out various parts of satellites, components that could be reused, melt down the rest for building material, and then shift it to a factory to build useful things, like more satellites. Then, the private sector would have an incentive to clean up space junk with a view of salvaging it so that it could be reused. Will such a system make economic sense? Perhaps it is time to find out. #Earth Atmosphere