Solving the Space Debris Problem

Space Junk, Artist Unknown

Your uncle Norman has a brilliant mind. I have to be mindful of my own humility, which is a trait I have tried all of my life to suppress. Humility is really just the timid heart being forced to express itself in public. Stamp it to pieces, and let yourself feel the power of confidence and pride. They'll never let you down, and they'll never leave you when you get into trouble.

If the folks at DARPA would just read my blog once in a while, and send me a few E-mails when they're having serious issues coming up with ideas, I'm fairly certain that my snap decisions and quick-witted solutions would help them out. Sadly, the only people who read my blog are people who want to see naked pictures of Eastern European porn stars. I should do more to cater to this audience, but I just can't get out of bed in the morning and write about Hungarian sex practices.

This is their latest conundrum:

Mad science agency DARPA has a new addition to its wish list: technology to clean up thousands of pieces of orbiting space junk. Surely, world peace can't come far behind on the agenda.

Satellites and manned missions alike have had to dodge a growing swarm of orbital debris in recent years. The U.S. Space Surveillance Network has detected more than 35,000 man-made objects since the space age began over 50 years ago, with 20,000 such objects currently remaining in orbit.

DARPA also noted that the number of cataloged debris objects has actually jumped by almost 50 percent since January 2007. That uptick in space junk comes courtesy of the Chinese government destroying a satellite in 2007, and a collision between an active U.S. satellite and a retired Russian communications satellite this year.

In a perhaps belated response, the Pentagon agency issued a call for possible cleanup proposals yesterday. It noted a special interest in debris ranging from 1 mm crumbs to entire derelict spacecraft and used rocket segments, and asked for a general cleanup timetable ranging from days to years.

Well, having given this all of about two minutes of consideration, 90 seconds of which were spent trying to figure out why I taste garlic when I haven't had garlic today, I came up with this:

Thinker and Intellectual, Norman RogersShame on you, DARPA! You're thinking in reverse.

You don't need a space junk cleaner, because cleaners tend to suck like a vacuum. You need a space junk pusher!

My solution is a spiraling vehicle that pushes space junk ahead of itself--think of a space equivalent of a bulldozer that never comes back. This vehicle is launched into orbit, and there it deploys a massive basket-shaped appendage ahead of it. Using predetermined coordinates, it pushes outward from the Earth's gravitational pull, gathering bits of space debris ahead of it that are moving with it as it leaves orbit, not against it because that would cause a catastrophic collision. As the net collects slower-moving debris and pushes it forward, the "net" uses small hooks, magnets (although a lot of space debris probably won't stick to a magnet because they tend to use a lot of aluminum alloys), grabbers, and adhesives to hold on to the debris--it's not just the big items, but the nuts and bolts we have to worry about as well.

Once the device has cleared orbit, and effectively cleared the path ahead of it, a second stage rocket fires, pushing it away from the Earth at a rate that will prevent it from falling back into orbit. Affix a warning beacon and let the device push away from the Earth at a leisurely pace.

By launching forty to fifty of these vehicles, we could pre-program a fairly extensive cleaning operation that would allow everyone who tracks space debris the chance to assess whether or not the Rogers Spacejunk Debris Pusher (RSDP) is effective. Start with the tough stuff first. If it works, order up a few hundred more and commence to cleaning the skies above.

Problem solved, and DARPA, I'm wealthy. I don't need the money. Have a pizza party on your uncle Norman.

I'll post some diagrams in a bit on my website, if I stop having a life.

Space junk. All you have to do is get rid of it, and stop putting junk into orbit. Was that so hard to come up with? It doesn't seem like much a problem, does it? Nothing a dry hump with two waitresses from Budapest wouldn't fix, right?