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NASA could use lasers to remove space junk from Earth’s orbit

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The agency’s report said NASA plans to use lasers and manual “space tugs” to pull space junk out of Earth’s orbit, as some experts estimate trillions of junk is in space and endangers satellites.


  • NASA says ground-based and space-based lasers can be used to propel space junk out of Earth’s orbit, though other methods include space tugs — spacecraft that can move objects manually — and rockets.
  • NASA has said that removing space debris is necessary because debris in Earth’s orbit poses a threat to orbiting satellites and departing spacecraft. It is estimated that $23 million in damage could be avoided for every 100,000 small pieces of debris (measuring between 1 and 10 centimeters) removed.
  • The largest debris and the agency’s 50 most important objects may require the use of missiles, although this option is “one of the most complex and least accomplished”.
  • The report does not say which method is preferred, but does mention its preference for using lasers on Earth or in space for small debris and space tugs for larger debris.
  • NASA notes that efforts to solve the problem could “pay the net benefits in less than ten years” after choosing a method, which would require cooperation with the US government and military, the agency notes.

A large number

100 trillion. That’s the estimated number of space junk orbiting Earth, although the European Space Agency says only 130 million pieces of junk are tracked.

Amazing fact

More than 1,500 pieces of traceable orbital debris were generated after the Russian government tested anti-satellite missiles against one of its satellites in 2021, which could subsequently generate “hundreds of thousands” of small pieces of debris, according to the State Department.

main context

Space debris, sometimes referred to as “space junk,” has become a growing problem for orbiting satellites as more and more objects are launched from Earth. Since 1957, 6,370 rockets have been launched and more than 15,000 satellites have been placed in Earth orbit, according to the European Space Agency. According to the agency, the wreckage is due to many reasons, including disintegration, explosions, and spacecraft collisions. Imogen Knapper, a research fellow at the University of Plymouth, told Forbes last week that the accumulation of space debris is similar to ocean plastic pollution that has accumulated over time, noting that “without global agreement, we could find ourselves on a similar trajectory.”

Translated article from the American magazine Forbes – Author: T Roche

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