Project aims to remove space debris

August 10, 2012 By Jan McHarg, Texas A&M University

Project aims to remove space debris
( -- Low Earth Orbit is overcluttered with rogue objects and collision shrapnel that are a constant threat to spacecraft.

Experts say that a traditional to go capture each object is not efficient enough to make an appreciable difference due to the high cost of orbit transfers. Many alternate proposals are politically controversial, costly or dependent on further technological advances; therefore, they are not adequate solutions at present, and none have been proven feasible.

Dr. Daniele Mortari, professor in the Department of , and his Ph.D. student Jonathan Missel are developing a new and creative mission structure that reinvents the way the problem is approached.

See more about Sling-Sat in this video

Traditional missions plan to rendezvous with each object, capture them softly, and then transfer to the next object. In terms of , these maneuvers are hugely expensive. The proposed mission, "TAMU Sweeper," and the novel satellite design, "Sling-Sat," reclaim the fuel losses of a traditional mission by capturing and then ejecting each object throughplastic collisions.

Welcoming collisions strongly reduce (or even eliminate) the need to burn fuel for rendezvous, and ejecting the debris mass keeps the craft light. In addition, the momentum exchanged in the capture and ejection of each object can be intelligently planned to act as a free for the satellite to transfer to the next object, in place of fuel. The free impulses from capture and ejection are both considered in trajectory optimization to maximize their effectiveness.

The proposed satellite design, Sling-Sat, also exploits existing momentum to save fuel. Debris is captured at the ends of a spinning satellite. Adjustable arms control the angular rate to achieve a desired tangential ejection speed. Timing the release exacts the ejection angle. Through this process, debris can be redirected to burn up in the atmosphere or, by lowering the perigee; the consequent drag increase will then reduce the debris lifetime. Detailed design studies that aim to establish a feasible hardware realization will be conducted over the coming year.

Explore further: Safe and efficient de-orbit of space junk without making the problem worse

Related Stories

Pioneering ERS environment satellite retires

July 6, 2011

After 16 years spent gathering a wealth of data that has revolutionized our understanding of Earth, ESA's veteran ERS-2 satellite is being retired. This pioneering mission has not only advanced science, but also forged the ...

Recommended for you

Apple pivot led by star-packed video service

March 25, 2019

With Hollywood stars galore, Apple unveiled its streaming video plans Monday along with news and game subscription offerings as part of an effort to shift its focus to digital content and services to break free of its reliance ...

How tree diversity regulates invading forest pests

March 25, 2019

A national-scale study of U.S. forests found strong relationships between the diversity of native tree species and the number of nonnative pests that pose economic and ecological threats to the nation's forests.

Scientists solve mystery shrouding oldest animal fossils

March 25, 2019

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) have discovered that 558 million-year-old Dickinsonia fossils do not reveal all of the features of the earliest known animals, which potentially had mouths and guts.

Earth's deep mantle flows dynamically

March 25, 2019

As ancient ocean floors plunge over 1,000 km into the Earth's deep interior, they cause hot rock in the lower mantle to flow much more dynamically than previously thought, finds a new UCL-led study.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2012
Why spend billions to clean up in space, when we have so much here on on Earth that needs to be fixed.
not rated yet Aug 10, 2012
Why spend billions to clean up in space, when we have so much here on on Earth that needs to be fixed

We should do both. Some countries already spend billions to clean up down here, but nobody has tried to clean up space yet.

Here's the list of successful US EPA superfund cleanup sites. They have it broken down by year. I particularly like the one in Hawaii, which will be the second link here:



In most cases (around 70-80% now), the cleanup is paid for by the responsible party, not taxpayers. I'm not sure if other places beside the US have a similar program, but European countries probably do. I know Canada does, though I don't know what they call it.

50 years ago, we were certainly moving in the wrong direction, but I can honestly say that improvements in how we do things here in the US have placed us far above anyone else in the world.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2012
Why spend billions to clean up in space, when we have so much here on on Earth that needs to be fixed.

Probably because if you count all the satellites, the ISS, and anything else we have up there(like the X-37B), there is probably trillions of dollars of equipment up there that we need to protect.

Plus the military and you and me rely on those GPS satellites to get to work or to bomb a building. Then there is DirecTV, XM, and others that provide services from space. I am sure they don't want to spend more millions on a new satellite.

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.