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The next big challenge : Clean up space junk

This is from India Today’s latest series “The next big things”. 

When American astronaut Edgar Mitchell flew to the moon on board Apollo 14 in 1971, he waxed eloquent about his first glimpse of the Earth from space, calling it “a sparkling blue and white jewel”. Forty-five years later, if an astronaut looked back at Earth now, he would find that jewel surrounded by tonnes of space debris, forming a Saturn-like ring across the earth. The US Air Force, in fact, now tracks some 23,000 pieces of space junk that float around the Earth. Space scientists estimate that there are a million more tiny pieces, including engine parts from spacecraft, that are orbiting the Earth and pose a danger to satellites and launch vehicles. Now, a Japanese entrepreneur, Mitsunobu Okada, has set up a company called Astroscale to clean up all the space trash-for a price. As a first step, he plans to send up a satellite to map the debris. He would follow that up with another craft that would allow it to intercept space junk and nudge it onto a course that causes it to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, incinerating it in the process. Meanwhile, the US Air Force is putting together a plan to use ground-based lasers as a giant broom to sweep the debris and nudge it onto a path that destroys it.

The Breakthrough

There is so much debris orbiting the Earth that the planet appears to have a Saturn-like rings around it.

Companies and militaries across the world are looking for ways to clean the Earth’s orbit of this dangerous junk.

Featured Video: Stuart Grey (Timeline of space debris)

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