The International Space Station could be armed with a laser to shoot down debris, researchers say, adding that the project is not of immediate importance.
This concept might eventually point to a laser-firing satellite which could eliminate of a large percentage of the most problematic space junk that is orbiting Earth, researchers explained.
NASA scientists suggest that almost 3,000 tons of space debris are present in low-Earth orbit, among them being derelict satellites, rocket bodies and also parts resulted after the impacts involving larger objects. Collisions from pieces of junk which are only the size of a small screw can still cause catastrophic damage on satellites. Some of these projectiles are traveling at speeds of more than 22,000 mph.
The issue of space debris is gaining importance as more spacecraft and satellites are sent into space. Large pieces of junk can be the source of lots of small fragments if they collide, and those pieces can then strike other objects in orbit, generating a chain reaction of damage.
Most spacecraft, like the International Space Station, can take the hits from debris smaller than approximately 0.4 inches with adequate shielding. Unfortunately, ground-based radar and computer programs point to the fact that more than 700,000 pieces of space junk larger than 0.4 inches are now orbiting Earth. Although pieces larger than 4 inches have the sufficient size for astronomers to spot them, debris smaller than 4 inches are significantly more difficult to detect and avoid.
Now scientists suggest the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO), which will be installed on Japan’s module on the International Space Station in 2017, could aid the orbiting complex identify dangerous debris. They explained that a powerful laser which is under development might then help take down this space garbage.
“The EUSO telescope, which was originally designed to detect cosmic rays, could also be put to use for this useful project,” said study lead author Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, an astrophysicist and chief scientist at the RIKEN Computational Astrophysics Laboratory in Wako, Japan.
EUSO was originally created to spot ultraviolet light that is produced by ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays as they penetrate the atmosphere at night. The researchers think that its powerful optics and wide range of view could also be very useful in its efforts to detect high-speed debris close to the International Space Station.
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