Gigantic Orbiting Balloons Could Solve Space Junk Problem

by , 08/04/10

space junk, global aerospace corporation, gold, kristen gates, robotics, satellites, waste, aerospace, space, sustainable design

Earth is like the Pig-Pen of the solar system: more than 100,000 objects bigger than a centimeter wide hover around our planet, accounting for 4 million pounds of junk that befoul our atmosphere and threaten the expensive satellites we actually want in orbit. What if we could just burn up the junk like a meteor hitting the atmosphere? Scientist Dr. Kristen Gates says we can — by sending gigantic space balloons into the atmosphere.

space junk, global aerospace corporation, gold, kristen gates, robotics, satellites, waste, aerospace, space, sustainable designArtistic rendering courtesy European Space Operations Centre

Gates, of Global Aerospace Corporation, proposes attaching a football field-sized balloon to a dead satellite, which would increase the orbital drag on it, eventually bringing it down into the atmosphere where it would burn up. GOLD — or Gossamer Orbit Lowering Device — consists of an ultra-thin but ultra-strong material that can fit in a medium suitcase when uninflated. It’s easily inflated in space, and best of all, if the deployed GOLD balloon collides with space junk, it won’t deflate or break the junk into smaller, less manageable bits: unlike other proposed solutions to our Pig-Pen dilemma, it won’t make the problem worse.

GOLD can be attached to existing large debris using an orbital robot, but the best tactic is to include it at launch to be deployed at the end of a mission. Current missions pack a little extra fuel to bring the craft down, but the GOLD system actually weighs and costs less.

+ Global Aerospace Corporation

Via Fast Company and Space Daily

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  1. lukep September 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Don’t forget that amateur astronomers would have an absolute BALL watching these things! (Slight pun intended.) This is the perfect answer we need… Of course getting china to include on their satellites too will be tough!

    @roycerus: NOT WORTH IT. What’s up there now is coming down within 20 or so years anyway… It can’t escape the well forever. (And such a plan would be so expensive we wouldn’t be able to afford it for another 50 years… Even if all spacefaring nations contributed!)

  2. roycerus August 9, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Maybe it’s tough but couldn’t a solar powered robot be programmed in such a way that it would target bad objects in space, match their orbit and then push them either towards earth or towards the sun. A million such small robots could possibly clean up things pretty quickly.

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