Australia to prevent 'Gravity' space crash with lasers (Update)

March 7, 2014
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins participates in a spacewalks designed to allow the crew to change out a degraded pump module on the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, December 24, 2013

Australian scientists said Friday they aim to prevent a real-life version of the space disaster scenario portrayed in Oscar-winning film "Gravity" by removing extraterrestrial debris with lasers.

"We now want to clean up space to avoid the growing risks of collisions and to make sure we don't have the kind of event portrayed in 'Gravity'," said Matthew Colless, head of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University.

In the film, which won seven Oscars at this year's Academy Awards, two astronauts played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are left drifting in the void after a collision between satellite debris and their spacecraft.

Later this year the new Space Environment Management Cooperative Research Centre will begin research on how to better track tiny pieces of debris and predict their trajectories, largely based at Mount Stromlo Observatory in the Australian capital of Canberra.

But it will ultimately aim to knock them off their paths by hitting them with Earth-grounded lasers, forcing them to slow down and fall back into the atmosphere, where they will burn up harmlessly.

Colless said something needed to be done to remove space junk given the ever growing amount of discarded material orbiting Earth—from tiny screws to parts of old rockets.

Graphic on debris and defunct space hardware that currently orbit the earth

"There are hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk in orbit that are big enough to do serious damage to a satellite or space station," he said.

"Everywhere humans have been in space, we leave some trash behind.

The new centre, expected to be fully operational by mid-2014, will also include Mount Stromlo-based EOS Space Systems, Lockheed Martin, the NASA Ames Research Centre, Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, telecommunications firm Optus and Australia's RMIT University.

The centre's chief executive Ben Greene warned of the risks to satellites and space exploration.

"There is now so much debris that it is colliding with itself, making an already big problem even bigger," Greene said.

"A catastrophic avalanche of collisions that would quickly destroy all satellites is now possible.

"Our initial aim is to reduce the rate of debris proliferation due to new collisions, and then to remove debris by using ground-based lasers."

More than 20,000 bits of cast-off equipment, including old satellites, pieces of rocket and other fragments are uselessly orbiting the Earth in a band 800-1,400 kilometres (500-900 miles) from the surface of the planet, and at terrific speed.

Explore further: Japan scientists test tether to clear up space junk

Related Stories

Telescope to track space junk using youth radio station

November 29, 2013

A combination of pop songs, talkback radio and cutting-edge science has enabled Australian astronomers to identify a way to prevent catastrophic, multi-billion dollar space junk collisions, a new study has revealed.

NASA proposes laser use to move space junk

March 18, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of scientists led by NASA space scientist James Mason have proposed the idea of using a mid-powered laser and telescope to nudge pieces of space junk out of the way and slow it down to avoid collisions.

Swiss craft janitor satellites to grab space junk

February 15, 2012

The tidy Swiss want to clean up space. Swiss scientists said Wednesday they plan to launch a "janitor satellite" specially designed to get rid of orbiting debris known as space junk.

Capturing derelict satellites adrift in orbit

February 24, 2014

Standard space dockings are difficult enough, but a future ESA mission plans to capture derelict satellites adrift in orbit. Part of an effort to control space debris, the shopping list of new technologies this ambitious ...

Space station in no need to move to avoid debris

October 3, 2012

(AP)—Russia's Mission Control Center said Wednesday it dropped an earlier plan to move the International Space Station into a different orbit to avoid possible collision with space debris after additional calculations showed ...

Recommended for you

Hubble catches a transformation in the Virgo constellation

December 9, 2016

The constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) is especially rich in galaxies, due in part to the presence of a massive and gravitationally-bound collection of over 1300 galaxies called the Virgo Cluster. One particular member of ...

Scientists sweep stodgy stature from Saturn's C ring

December 9, 2016

As a cosmic dust magnet, Saturn's C ring gives away its youth. Once thought formed in an older, primordial era, the ring may be but a mere babe – less than 100 million years old, according to Cornell-led astronomers in ...

Khatyrka meteorite found to have third quasicrystal

December 9, 2016

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.S. and Italy has found evidence of a naturally formed quasicrystal in a sample obtained from the Khatyrka meteorite. In their paper published in the journal Scientific Reports, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.